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UPI: 20% of U.S. Adults Would Avoid Emergency Care Due to Pandemic

United Press International (UPI) recently interviewed Brennan Spiegel, MD, MSHS, director of Health Services Research at Cedars-Sinai, about a study he co-authored, which found that up to a quarter of adults would avoid visiting an emergency department for potentially lifesaving treatment due to fears of COVID-19 exposure.

The findings highlighted the need for healthcare organizations to develop effective communications to reassure the public it's safe to seek medical care during an infectious disease outbreak, Spiegel told UPI. Avoiding needed care can have far worse consequences.

The investigators surveyed a cross-section of adults in the U.S. on June 1, 2020, during the initial wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. Of the 933 participants who submitted responses to the online survey, 25.5% said that if they were experiencing symptoms of appendicitis, they would skip a trip to the emergency department out of fear of contracting COVID-19. Of those surveyed, 16.9% said they'd avoid the hospital for the same reason if they had symptoms of myocardial infarction—a heart attack.

"Fear of becoming infected with COVID-19 in healthcare settings has led many people to forgo medical tests and consultations," Spiegel told UPI. "On the one hand, this is understandable because people are hardwired to ... avoid infections, but on the other hand, avoiding necessary care can lead to severe, and even catastrophic, health outcomes."

The findings, published in JAMA Network Open, highlight the need for healthcare providers to communicate their safety measures. Otherwise, patients could misjudge their risk of contracting COVID-19 and delay lifesaving care—a potentially deadly decision, according to study co-author Christopher Almario, MD, MSHPM, an assistant professor of Medicine at Cedars-Sinai and co-senior author of the study.

"Even when faced with symptoms of a heart attack—a condition that carries a 40% risk of death without treatment—almost 17% of adults preferred to avoid getting care. That really demonstrates a breakdown in communication about how safe healthcare settings are due to the strict observance of safety measures, such as masking and isolating patients with potential COVID-19 symptoms," Almario said. "We don't want to inadvertently create a second healthcare crisis during a future pandemic because people are avoiding seeking treatment."

Click here to read the complete article from UPI.