Patients deferring lifesaving care during pandemic, study suggests

Patient visits for heart attack and stroke have dropped significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic, compared to patient visits during the same period in 2019, indicating patients may be avoiding care for potentially life-threatening conditions, a new study shows.

The study, which has not been peer-reviewed, examined conditions for which patients would be expected to seek care under normal circumstances, such as heart attack and stroke, along with diagnoses for conditions that are usually treated in the outpatient setting but are urgent nonetheless, such as new referrals for breast and blood cancers.
For each condition, researchers compared the number of patient visits at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston during the pandemic, March and April, to the number of patient visits for the same conditions earlier in 2020, January and February. Researchers also used data from the equivalent periods in 2019 as a control.

They found that patient visits for heart attack symptoms decreased by 33 percent in March and April  compared to March and April 2019. The number of patient visits for stroke dropped by 58 percent from 2019. Also, there was about a  two-thirds drop in referrals for breast cancer and blood cancer visits from 2019 to this year.

The researchers said that though the decline in patients seeking care for heart attack and strokes may be partly due to a decrease in these events due to the sudden change in lifestyles and improved air quality during the lockdown in Massachusetts, they are unlikely the reason for the entire decline. 

"Our data suggest that patients are deferring lifesaving care due to fear of contagion," said Dhruv S. Kazi, MD, a corresponding author of the study and director of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center's cardiac critical care unit.


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