The COVID-19 pandemic has made it difficult for consumers to go about their usual daily routines, but a new study warns that it could also be impeding emergency medical care.
A new study conducted by researchers from Washington University School of Medicine found that the pandemic has led to a 40 percent reduction in patients being screened for strokes. This is concerning because consumers could be forgoing necessary medical treatments.
“Our stroke team has maintained full capacity to provide emergency stroke treatment at all times, even during the height of the pandemic,” said researcher Dr. Akash Kansagra. “Nevertheless, we have seen a smaller number of stroke patients coming to the hospital and some patients arriving at the hospital after a considerable delay. It is absolutely heartbreaking to meet a patient who might have recovered from a stroke but, for whatever reason, waited too long to seek treatment.”
Avoiding the emergency room
Dr. Kansagra decided to evaluate just how widespread this issue was after observing how low the numbers for stroke evaluations were in his hospital and those of his colleagues. The researchers analyzed data from hospitals across all 50 states to determine how often they were using software specific to evaluating stroke patients.
In comparing the use of the software before the height of the pandemic and then during a two-week period near the end of March when things had intensified, the researchers found that the number of patients being evaluated for strokes dropped by nearly 40 percent.
They learned that as quarantine orders became stricter across the country, fewer patients were going to the emergency room with stroke-like symptoms. Dr. Kansagra says this is a cause for concern because strokes affect hundreds of thousands of consumers across the country each year.
“I suspect we are witnessing a combination of patients being reluctant to seek care out of fear that they might contract COVID-19, and the effects of social distancing, “ he said. “The response of family and friends is really important when a loved one is experiencing stroke symptoms. Oftentimes, the patient themselves are not in a position to call 911, but family and friends recognize the stroke symptoms and make the call. In an era when we are all isolating at home, it may be that patients who have strokes aren’t discovered quickly enough.”
Seek out help
The researchers explained that these decreases in stroke-related emergency room evaluations were consistent across all parts of the country. However, they also emphasized the importance of consumers seeking out medical care as soon as possible if they believe they are having a stroke.
“The effect of coming in too late is the same in many respects as not coming in at all,” said Dr. Kansagra. “When patients come in too late, they may no longer be candidates for treatments that they would have qualified for just hours before. And as a result, they may not have access to treatments that are extremely effective in reducing death and disability.”