According to data shared with CNBC, emergency room visits are down by about 50% across New York City Health, Providence St. Joseph Health, and other locations.
Trending across the U.S. people are staying clear of hospitals for sometimes necessary and emergency care, even for mild heart attacks.
Physicians worry that patients with severe illnesses may suffer permanent damage by avoiding the ER.
“The big question is are we going to see a lot more people that have bad outcomes from heart disease, from stroke, from cancer because they’ve put off what they should have had done but were too afraid to come to the hospital,” said Dr. Rod Hochman, CEO of Providence St. Joseph Health.
The decline isn’t just being driven by the fear of catching COVID-19. The number of injuries across the country has fallen as most people stay home under some sort of quarantine order.
Dr. Fayne Frey, a Dermatologist in Rockland County, New York, said her patients have been flooding her office, not for the usual acne treatments or Botox. But patients who need emergency care and want to avoid going to the hospital. For example a patient with a deep, six-inch laceration came into her office needing stitches.
“I’m seeing people who don’t want to go to the emergency room,” she said. “I just think there’s an overall fear right now of going near urgent care centers and emergency rooms because that’s where people with a cough and fever will go.”
Hochman also said preventive care is down, including colonoscopy screenings for cancer and mammograms, which could have long-term public health consequences, such as a jump in cancer rates a year or so down the road.
Dr. Christopher Freer, director of emergency medicine at RWJBarnabas Health said, “Even with coronavirus, we still have healthy people who get an illness and need to go to the emergency room. Heart attacks don’t stop.”
Freer also said the ERs are still seeing the most severe patients, such as stroke victims and appendicitis patients, but people with mild injuries have stopped coming in, for the most part.
“U.S. hospitals need to get the message out that they are safe and that there are systems in place to protect non-coronavirus patients. If people delay care by waiting to go to the hospital until symptoms have developed into a serious illness, it could be too late to prevent long-term damage or even death,” said Cardiologist and health-care researcher Dr. Harlan Krumholz at the Yale School of Medicine.
“If you’re having trouble speaking or you have weakness in one of your arms or legs, these aren’t things to tough out,” Krumholz said. “More people are dying at home, and some of them are dying of things that aren’t directly related to the virus.”