Medical emergencies require a trip to the hospital, even during a pandemic

When should you go to the hospital during the COVID-19 pandemic?

“Anything that the patient recognizes as a potential life-threatening situation should still result in them seeking medical care,” says Dr. Norman Chapin, the chief medical officer for McLaren Bay Region.

However, some patients are reluctant to go to the hospital during the pandemic. Government officials and others are urging people to stay home to avoid exposure to the virus. While staying home is good advice for avoiding the virus, it can have deadly consequences during a medical emergency such as a heart attack or stroke.

Recently, Chapin said he’s seen patients waiting hours or days before going to the hospital. The fear of COVID-19 keeps them home. But many treatments are most effective when administered as early as possible. Complications can arise from delayed treatment.

“We’ve seen a rise in the number of patients who are dying at home, not always related to COVID,” Chapin says.

While Chapin understands the fear, he also says it’s unnecessary.

“This is a new type of infection and we understand why people have a little more fear about it. There was uncertainty and where there’s uncertainty, that causes fear to get worse,” Chapin says.

But as the pandemic continues, healthcare workers are learning more about the virus, how it spreads, and how to better protect patients and staff.

“We’ve made tremendous strides in understanding how the disease is transmitted between people,” Chapin explains.

“We’ve learned how to use personal protective equipment and hand hygiene and social distancing in our waiting rooms and private rooms for patients to minimize the risk. We’ve got disinfection procedures in place.”

At Bay Region, only two entrances are open. That guarantees that every person who comes in is screened for COVID-19 and given a mask. Physicians, nurses, and all staff wear masks too, limiting the risk of exposure.

“I think people can be comfortable that we are doing everything we possibly can to make it as safe as possible for them to come to the hospital,” Chapin says.

While it’s impossible to list every health condition that warrants a trip to the emergency room, Chapin said the general guidelines haven’t changed. Signs of stroke, heart attack, and severe abdominal pain all warrant an immediate trip to the hospital. McLaren also has been posting graphics depicting common signs of serious illness on its Facebook page to further educate patients.

“There has always been a risk of catching an infection when you come to the hospital,” Chapin says. “We’ve been talking to the public about that for many, many years. Patients should understand there are definitely times that the risk of staying home outweighs the risk of going to the hospital.

“There are times when patients have to listen to their own bodies and use their judgement about if they need help and if they have a serious problem. The worst thing in the world is when people don’t get the help they need.”