A recent study conducted by Massachusetts General Hospital found that emergency department visits drastically declined during the first part of the COVID-19 pandemic. For some, this has raised concern as it may very well be an indicator that people are not seeking medical treatment when necessary. Others are saying that this is an indicator that the medical system is doing exactly what it’s supposed to be doing.
The immediate concern that researchers pointed to is that people are not getting the care that they need. If emergency rooms aren’t being used as widely, where are all of the patients going? Are people avoiding care because they think that they will become infected with the coronavirus? These are scary thoughts, and they raise valid concerns. If care is not obtained, mortality and morbidity rates will increase.
Now, a reduction in emergency room visits doesn’t necessarily need to mean that people are avoiding care. The role of a lot of different agencies and professionals around the country is to do just that. This is why we have seen so many states and regions adopt immediate or urgent care centers. It allows people to get medical treatment after hours or on a walk-in basis, but without needing to go to a hospital setting to do so. The reduction of visits to the ER may be an indicator that these systems are working.
They may also be a sign that new systems that have been put in place are working. Telehealth, virtual appointments, and remote screenings have gone a long way toward making the health care system more efficient. Yes, there’s a lot more work that needs to be done in improving these things, but we’ve already seen that they can be successful. This is encouraging news and it’s an indication that the system will become even better as we progress into the future.
In all reality, the most likely answer is that the decline in ER visits is a mixture of both. Other research has indicated that there are far fewer screenings and preventive visits happening than before the pandemic. This means that people are missing information and may not even know about potential health problems that are developing. There is likely going to be fallout from this in the near future as these health conditions worsen. This neglect of health is likely going to have the biggest impact on senior citizens that are already struggling with other health problems. Oftentimes, hospitals stand at the front line when it comes to alleviating these health concerns. If this option is not being utilized, problems are only going to worsen.
Medical care may be changing, but it’s still out there. It’s important to work with a doctor, regardless of how old or young you are. If you have questions about safely getting to and from appointments, or if you’re unsure of what the doctor’s policies are regarding COVID safety, call your doctor for more information. It is important to keep up with preventive and urgent health needs, even during this unprecedented pandemic.