COVID-19

It’s safe to see your doctor, ailing health-care industry tells prospective patients

Erika Beras May 15, 2020
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The emergency entrance at a hospital in New York. Hospitals nationwide are suffering financially as people fear infection and stay away. Misha Friedman/Getty Images
COVID-19

It’s safe to see your doctor, ailing health-care industry tells prospective patients

Erika Beras May 15, 2020
Heard on:
The emergency entrance at a hospital in New York. Hospitals nationwide are suffering financially as people fear infection and stay away. Misha Friedman/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
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Health-care providers are facing a dilemma. While some are busy, or even nearly overwhelmed providing care for patients with COVID-19, others have seen a huge drop in the number of patients at their offices, clinics and hospital emergency rooms. Sick people are staying away, even if they’re having heart attacks or strokes. Health-care providers are taking steps to convince people who aren’t suffering from the coronavirus to get the treatment they need.  

Tricia MacKenzie is a skin cancer survivor in Boston. And over the last couple months, she’s had a lot of tele-visits with her doctors. But if her doctors asked her to come in for an exam? 

“I think if I was asked to go today, I probably wouldn’t. I do want to go because it’s for the safety of just my body. But in the same sense, I’m not sure,” MacKenzie said.

A lot of patients aren’t sure. At Pittsburgh pediatrician Todd Wolynn’s clinic, they’re not seeing as many sick kids. When he gets calls from parents, he finds himself trying to reassure them.  

“We check you in at the front door. We escort you directly back to a room, [and] we have rooms for kids that are well and rooms for kids with symptoms,” he tells them.

But even with reassurances, people across the country are putting off routine care. Childhood vaccination rates are down, and emergency departments are seeing about half the volume they’d typically see. Marianne Udow-Phillips, a health-policy researcher at the University of Michigan, says people are afraid. 

“There is a lot of fear that when people go to the hospital they will become exposed to COVID-19, and they may actually end up sicker than they would if they just stayed home,” Udow-Phillips said.

That’s led to at least 1.4 million job losses in health care. According to Michelle Hood with the American Hospital Association, all of those procedures that people are postponing or avoiding “are oftentimes what allow hospitals to balance their books.”

So hospitals and health-care systems have launched ad campaigns to convince people it’s OK to come in. Local hospitals in Boston are telling patients that if they have chest pain or cut themselves with a kitchen knife, they are “doing everything possible to keep emergency departments clean and safe.”

And the Kentucky Hospital Association is running an ad saying that coronavirus has changed a lot about our lives, “but the health care you need doesn’t have to be put on hold.”

Hospitals are hoping the ads work. According to the American Hospital Association, the dip in visits is causing $50 billion a month in losses. 

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