Don’t Delay Medical Care

by Susan O’Mara, MD, Chair, Emergency Medicine
September 29, 2020

In early spring 2020, COVID-19 began to assert itself across the country. As it did, medical facilities nationwide experienced a sudden decrease in traffic to outpatient services and Emergency Departments (EDs). At the same time, there was a surge in visits from people with infectious issues (coughs, colds, fever), fearing they might have the coronavirus.

Yet even at that early stage of the pandemic, MedStar Washington Hospital Center was well prepared to manage all patients, COVID-19 or otherwise. Without hesitation, we immediately implemented safe protocols for incoming patients. We also ramped up our telehealth support, helping patients with non-critical conditions to stay connected with their providers and maintain good health during that uncertain period.

Fast forward to fall 2020. As health care professionals gain greater insight into COVID-19 every day—and as instances of the virus stabilize a bit in our area—we’re encouraging patients to return with confidence to on-site visits at MedStar Washington.

If you have not yet resumed visits with us on-site, we look forward to seeing you!

Have you avoided medical care during the pandemic? Don’t let these common misconceptions cause you to avoid treatment or neglect your health issues:

#1: If I go to the hospital, I may get COVID-19.

We are 100% committed to containing COVID-19 and preventing its transmission among patients and caregivers.

We’re incredibly vigilant about this, employing strict protocols that keep our patients and staff safe. Our Quality and Safety Department is rigorously committed to this mission, and all Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines for distancing, masking, hand-washing, and sanitizing are, of course, mandatory throughout MedStar Washington.

We require all patients to be masked and receive a temperature check. All seats in waiting rooms are six feet apart. Anyone entering the hospital is required to respond to COVID-19 screening questions.

#2: COVID-19 patients need help more than me right now. I should probably avoid putting unnecessary strain on the healthcare system.

We are well prepared to care for you!

As the pandemic spread throughout the spring, operations at many medical facilities were quickly strained, particularly in regions hit hard by the virus early on, like Italy and New York City. Here at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, we saw what might be coming our way and took it very seriously, quickly preparing to accommodate a surge of patients.

A local leader in disaster management, the Hospital Center was able to immediately activate its disaster plan, putting energy and urgency into addressing our surge capacity.

MedStar Health’s strength lies in its network of 10 hospitals. In any major emergency, we’re able to think beyond the capacity at the Hospital Center, across the entire MedStar Health system, where we have access to a vastly expanded number of intensive care unit beds, ventilators, and negative pressure rooms.

To handle the surge in patient load, we transferred patients across the system, preventing any one facility from being overwhelmed. With our large network of available resources, we’re uniquely positioned to accommodate ebbs and flows in the virus across our region.

We took additional preparedness measures as well, including quickly creating a temporary auxiliary ED where patients with minor, non-coronavirus-related complaints could be treated. We also implemented a COVID-19 clinic specifically for testing people who were not critically ill. If a patient did require treatment for COVID-19—or was suspected of having COVID-19 but still awaiting test results—we placed them in isolation rooms to keep other patients and staff safe from infection. Even at the height of the pandemic around our region, Hospital Center resources were never stretched in this regard.

#3: This pain I’m feeling is probably nothing. If I wait, it will probably just go away.

If you think you are having an emergency, it’s not safe to wait.

For many medical issues, there’s a tremendous risk in delaying treatment. In fact, that’s almost the definition of an emergency: a situation in which it’s too risky to wait.

If you have trouble breathing or severe, persistent pain—let’s say, at a level you’ve never felt before or it frightens you—come to the ED immediately and let us check it out. If you come to us and discover it’s not an emergency, it’s still better that you came. Don’t risk your health or life.

Is it COVID-19?
If you have mild symptoms that you think might be COVID-19, you have many options for seeking care. Call your primary care provider’s office to seek guidance, go to a MedStar Health Urgent Care location or use a MedStar Health Video Visit for medical advice and assessment.

However, you should come to the ED if you have or suspect COVID-19 and also are extremely short of breath; have a high fever; or suffer from asthma, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, or another chronic illness, as these conditions can complicate coronavirus.

Let’s look at some other situations when you should immediately seek emergency care:

  • You have chest pain or suspect a heart attack: If you neglect to seek help, you may find that your chest pain actually subsides over the next few days, leaving you convinced that you dodged a bullet. But know this: your heart muscle is not in a normal state, it’s been compromised. By avoiding treatment, you’re now in danger of fatal arrhythmias and other aftershocks from that assault on your heart. Ignore the pain, and you may risk death within days or even hours. Or, left untreated, a heart attack may weaken the heart muscle to the point where you have long-term congestive heart failure. Chest pain is a signal to head to our ED, where we can work to halt further damage to your heart muscle.
  • You suspect a stroke: Again, an immediate trip to the ED is in order. Ignoring signs of a stroke can cause permanent disabilities, from limb and muscle weakness to speech problems.
  • You suspect an infection: Infections are frequently neglected until the patient is in a real danger zone—at risk for septic shock and, potentially, death. So, report to the ED when you experience high fever; uncontrollable chills, burning, or pain; troubling redness or swelling; excessive vomiting; or other important signs that infection has set in.
Delaying treatment can lead to future health complications. Don’t wait! We are safe and ready to care for you. https://bit.ly/3j4Oktc @SOMaraEM @MedStarWHC
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#4: My health screenings can wait until COVID-19 is no longer a threat.

It’s time to get back on track with health screenings.

The whole purpose of screening is early detection. Let’s consider two critical conditions: hypertension and cancer. Both screenings are important because these are frequently symptom-free diseases that can deliver severe long-term consequences.

Blood pressure: If you don’t experience headaches or dizziness, you might think your blood pressure is just fine.  But chronically elevated blood pressure is not something you can feel. Bit by bit, it can gradually damage your heart muscle, kidneys, and brain, and you may have no warning that it’s happening until months or years down the road, when ultimately a crisis occurs. If it spikes very high, it could result in stroke, heart attack, or acute heart failure when your lungs fill with fluid. So, monitoring and treating your blood pressure are the most important actions you can take.

Cancer: Cancers, too, can be completely painless and without symptoms until they reach an advanced stage. When symptoms finally do appear, it may be much harder to treat or manage the cancer.

During the pandemic, your doctors at the Hospital Center are careful about when we recommend you get your important screenings. Have a “shared decision-making” chat with your primary care physician or specialist to determine the best time to get your screenings. You can also put our telehealth services to good use to discuss things like medication management.

And don’t be shy about telling your doctor where and how you may have dropped the ball in managing your health during the pandemic. Remember: your doctor is experiencing COVID-19 stress just like you. He or she understands that pandemic conditions may make it more difficult than usual to exercise, eat right, and maintain health routines. Regardless of whether we’ve contracted the virus or not, COVID-19 is impacting all of us.

#5: Telehealth visits seem too complicated.

Telehealth is an easy, effective way to stay connected with your doctor.

As the coronavirus began to spread, the Hospital Center’s telehealth options—already popular with some patients—suddenly emerged as an efficient option for many others. In those challenging first few months, telehealth was an invaluable resource for patients concerned about leaving home, and as many as 90% of our outpatient visits were conducted in that manner. It continues to be a great choice for certain situations.

For example, if you have a mild case of COVID-19, telehealth can be a viable way to check in quickly and report changes in symptoms to your health care professional. Your respiratory pattern, respiratory rate, the cadence of your conversation—all can be markers telling us if you’re struggling to breathe and whether you need to come to the hospital for more advanced medical care. (Of course, remember: if you’re in distress, come directly to the ED.)

A Word About Flu Season

Although flu season is upon us, we never know how it will evolve until it’s in full swing. But because the flu and COVID-19 have many similar symptoms, patients should be cautious. If you’re quite ill, come in for an assessment and testing. We’ll determine if it’s the flu or COVID-19 and how quarantining should be handled, since isolation is very important for both conditions.

Rest assured, though: if the region experiences another wave of coronavirus, even during flu season, we’re ready. All the protocols and systems are in place and effective.

We’ve expanded our testing capacity for COVID-19 and offer multiple ways for you to be monitored for COVID-19 or treated for other issues, whether through our ED, your primary care doctor or specialist, or Urgent Care. And we have the entire MedStar Health system behind us, extending our care opportunities as needed.

Most importantly, don’t delay care. Do the right thing when it comes to your health, not just for yourself, but for the people who care about you.

Don’t delay important medical care.

Connect with our team today.

Call 202-644-9526 or  Request an Appointment

Category: Healthy Living     Tags: covid 19 and health careem-3jmedical care and covid