Time is muscle.
It’s a common saying among cardiologists. At its core, it means that the longer someone takes to address heart damage, the less likely it is that they’ll recover.
This fact makes it incredibly important for someone to go to the hospital when they’re experiencing heart-related symptoms.
While that might seem obvious, a troubling trend has emerged in light of COVID-19. The pandemic is keeping people away from seeking the healthcare they might urgently need. While elective surgeries were temporarily suspended for a few weeks, there’s nothing elective about cardiovascular health.
“We need to let people know that the risk of dying from a heart attack is much greater than of COVID-19,” says Adam Groshans, president of Mercy Health – Springfield, which encompasses Springfield Regional Medical Center and Urbana Hospital.
The fear of being exposed to COVID-19 seems to be preventing some people from seeking critical healthcare services.
When comparing Emergency Room visits in April 2019 vs. April 2020, Mercy Health – Springfield saw a 42 percent drop in admitted cardiovascular patients, a 64 percent drop in cancer patients, and a 35 percent drop in general medicine patients. What’s more – the case mix index, which can show the severity of illnesses among patients admitted to the hospital, has jumped up 14 percent.
“These numbers are usually really predictable, and even a 15 percent drop would be significant,” Groshans says. “This doesn’t mean that people aren’t getting sick. It means that people aren’t getting treatment.”
Mercy Health – Springfield wants patients to feel confident that the hospitals are as safe as ever, utilizing everything from virtual doctor’s appointments to strict COVID-19 testing and screening protocols in order to mitigate the risk of someone coming in contact with the virus.
At the acute care campus in Springfield, patients displaying symptoms of the virus are isolated upon arrival. The hospital has dedicated a specialized area to treating the virus and has even outfitted entire floors with negative air pressure, a technology typically reserved for individual rooms.
Other innovations, like the mobile mammogram van, allow patients to get the care they need without actually entering the hospital. Patients can get screened one at a time in the van outside the hospital.
Another way for patients to get the care they need while staying distant is virtual appointments, an increasingly popular form of communication for doctors and their patients. While Groshans saw about 10 virtual visits made locally a few months ago, he’s now seen more than 200.
However, if someone is experiencing serious symptoms, Groshan emphasizes it’s still much safer to come to the hospital for care than to avoid or put off being seen and treated.
“We can track cases of congestive heart failure quickly, but there’s a lot we can’t see and won’t see until further down the line – like in cancer care – if people are putting off addressing signs and symptoms,” Groshans says. “The more we can treat people in a timely manner, the better the outcome it will be for the patients.”