There is a concerning trend physicians and hospitals worldwide are noticing during the pandemic–fewer patients accessing health care.
Dr. Neva Fantham-Tremblay, NBRHC Medical Director of Surgery & Head of Service for Obstetrics and Gynecology says locally we are seeing the same trend. Fantham-Tremblay says it appears fewer patients are accessing the health care system out of fear—fear of either leaving their home and being exposed to COVID-19, or fear of burdening health care workers and the health care system.
She says while our community has been quite good at following public health measures like restricting travel and only leaving home for essential reasons, some may not understand that ‘stay at home’ doesn’t apply to health care. “I want our community to know that health care is one of the essential reasons people should be leaving their house, even with public health restrictions. Health care, even preventative health care, is an essential reason to be leaving home.”
Like many of us during the pandemic, health care providers have adapted the way they work. “I think a lot of people have the misconception that their primary care or specialist’s offices are closed because many have switched to virtual or telephone visits,” Fantham-Tremblay says. “It doesn’t mean the office is closed—it just means some things can be managed virtually and others require an examination.”
While some may have hesitations about coming to the hospital for care, Fantham-Tremblay stresses hospitals are the safest they have ever been. “The pandemic team has worked very hard to ensure your access to health care is safe,” she explains. “Please don’t wait until you are unable to function before seeking care or going to the Emergency Department.” She says they have had examples of patients coming in much sicker because they waited at home for three days with appendicitis because they were terrified to go to the hospital.
While some communities are seeing a backlog of surgeries, that isn’t the case at NBRHC. “Many of us have seen a decrease in surgical volumes,” Fantham-Tremblay says. “You hear about backlogs for surgeries that are happening across the world and we are fortunate not to have that problem in our community. Sometimes we are actually seeing patients cancel their surgeries out of fear.”
And with that brings a rising concern about the long term effects delaying care might bring, including delayed diagnosis and the possibility of certain cancers developing that maybe could have been managed differently had it been caught earlier.
Although COVID-19 is at the forefront of everyone’s mind right now, Fantham-Tremblay says other diseases and illnesses are still happening. “Ignoring early symptoms or avoiding your cancer screening tests such as pap tests, mammograms, and colorectal cancer screening can impact your health long after the pandemic has passed.”
So for those patients who are unsure whether something needs to be urgently addressed or can be safely be put off, Fantham-Tremblay suggests they reach out to their physician or specialist’s office. “We are specialists in keeping you healthy, and don’t expect you to be a specialist in keeping yourself healthy. Reach out to us—ask your surgeon, ask your family physician, ask your nurse practitioner ‘is this something I should be dealing with urgently or is this something I can safely put off?’ And we may be able to help guide your decision.”
“You are not burdening us by seeking either urgent or non-urgent health care and by having your elective surgeries” Fantham-Tremblay insists. “It is an okay thing to do.”