More out-of-hospital heart attacks tied to hesitancy to seek emergency care, study finds

An analysis of emergency medical services call data in Boston found that while calls related to heart issues fell 27.2 percent during the first wave of COVID-19 infections, out-of-hospital cardiac arrests jumped nearly 36 percent, according to research published May 26 in Health Affairs. 

Using EMS call data, researchers evaluated the association between reluctance to call EMS for cardiac-related care and the incidence of out-of-hospital cardiac arrest across Boston's 14 neighborhoods. 

Findings showed that during the initial COVID-19 surge, calls where patients refused hospital transportation increased nearly 33 percent, compared to historical baselines. 

Even after the initial COVID-19 wave, when new cases began to fall and pandemic restrictions were eased, calls related to heart problems remained 17.2 percent lower. At the same time, out-of-hospital cardiac arrest incidence was nearly 25 percent higher, compared to before the pandemic. 

"These findings suggest that patients were reluctant to obtain emergency care," researchers said. "Efforts are needed to ensure that patients seek timely care both during and after the pandemic to reduce potentially avoidable excess cardiovascular disease deaths."

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