Don’t Put Off That Doctor’s Appointment

Everyone has put off a doctor’s appointment. The reason varies. We don’t want the results. It clashes with an event. We want to wait until we know we can do better on a test or measurement. But, in the last few months, many of us have been putting off visiting our doctors for an entirely different reason: fear of exposure to COVID-19.

As far back as April, 31 percent of Americans had delayed a doctor’s office trip because of COVID-19 worries. And more than 50 percent of senior citizens had canceled an appointment. Because of that, over the months, doctors saw a worrying drop in the number of people receiving routine tests for preventative care.

This COVID crisis has shined a searing spotlight on the importance of preventive health care in our country and across the world,” Dr. Gary LeRoy, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, said in May. “Telemedicine is a tool; it’s not a replacement for the patient-physician interaction.”

Additionally, patients have been suffering from cardiovascular events like heart attacks and strokes and are too afraid to go to the ER. People are staying home and seeing if it will pass rather than seeking help immediately.

It was very scary because it was so quiet,” Dr. David Tashman, medical director of the ER at USC Verdugo Hills Hospital. “We normally see 100 patients a day, and then, you know, overnight, we were down to 30 or 40… We know the number of heart attacks isn’t going to go down in a pandemic. It really shouldn’t.” 

Doctors understand the fear. But, despite the dangers, of COVID-19, heart disease is still the leading cause of death in the U.S. Doctors are still seeing this problem, months on from the beginning of the pandemic. By July, 70 percent of Americans surveyed said that they had canceled or delayed doctor’s appointments. The fear has not faded even though hospitals and doctor’s offices now have incredibly rigorous safety precautions.

If you have heart attack symptoms, waiting to see how they turn out is a dangerous choice,” said Dr. Mustafa Ahmed, an interventional cardiologist with the Univ. of Alabama Birmingham Cardiovascular Institute. “Essentially, you’re delaying care for fear of suffering a theoretical condition, the virus, because you may or may not catch COVID. But the condition you are gambling with is definitely not theoretical. It is significantly more likely to cause death or greatly reduce your quality of life. Some heart attacks can be so severe that the heart wall will burst. You rarely see that, because most people go to the ER when symptoms get severe. But in the last few months, I have seen cases this extreme. I can’t emphasize it enough — there is zero advantage to riding out the symptoms of a heart attack.”

Many areas have expanded their telehealth services during the pandemic. It is possible that if you call your doctor, they will be able to treat you over the phone. Or you can call your hospital and ask them what safeguards they have in place. They can tell you what to expect and put your mind at rest before you get there. They have been handling this for months now; they have a system.

 “Our message is ‘Your heart health can’t wait,’” said Dr. Timothy Byrne, medical director of cardiac services for Abrazo Arizona Heart Hospital. “It’s important for people to know that our hospitals and doctors’ offices have the appropriate protocols in place to make your visit safe.”

Your heart needs you to go to your regular appointments and reach out for help in an emergency. Hospitals and doctors are taking every precaution to stop the spread of COVID-19. Don’t let COVID-19 fears get in the way of keeping yourself healthy!
September 16, 2020
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