About one in five adults would avoid going to the hospital due to fears of COVID-19 exposure even if they are experiencing symptoms of emergency medical conditions, a survey published Thursday by JAMA Network Open found.
Among 933 adults respondents from across the United States, 17% indicated that if they had heart attack symptoms, they still would “prioritize avoidance of COVID-19 exposure” in the emergency room and not seek treatment, the data showed.
Just over 25% said they would make the same decision with appendicitis symptoms, the researchers said.
According to the study, those who would refuse emergency medical treatment cited fears of getting COVID-19 from other patients or personnel in crowded emergency rooms.
“Many people have avoided medical tests and consultations because they are afraid of becoming infected with COVID-19 in healthcare settings,” research co-author Brennan Spiegel told UPI in an email.
“On the one hand, this is understandable because people are hardwired to… avoid infections,” said Spiegel, a professor of medicine and public health at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. “On the other hand, avoiding necessary care can lead to severe, and even catastrophic, health outcomes.”
Many hospitals and healthcare facilities discontinued non-essential treatment services during the pandemic to limit spread of the virus and ensure they had sufficient staff to manage patients with COVID-19.
However, they continued to provide care to patients with life-threatening conditions, while taking precautions to limit risk.
In addition, several studies have found that a significant number of people across the country avoided these medical facilities over the past 18 months because they were concerned about being exposed to the virus.
For this survey, Spiegel and his colleagues surveyed 933 adults in the United States using an online questionnaire.
Respondents were questioned across a roughly one-year period, beginning June 1 last year and ending May 31, the researchers said.
They were asked specifically whether they would seek emergency care if they experienced symptoms of a heart attack, such as chest pain, or appendicitis, such as severe abdominal pain, according to the researchers.
Those with a “usual source of care,” such as a regular primary care physician or specialist, were about 50% less likely to avoid seeking emergency treatment during the pandemic, the data showed.
According to the researchers, this is likely owing to their greater access to high-quality care, more experience navigating healthcare systems, and more established relationships with providers.
“During the COVID-19 pandemic and future infectious outbreaks, healthcare systems and public health organisations should adopt communication strategies that highlight the institutions’ safety precautions for patients and the general public,” Spiegel said.
These can “assure [the public] and encourage [them] to seek timely treatment for important and routine requirements,” he says.