ER Visits Down As Patients Worry About COVID-19 1

DES MOINES, IOWA—The pandemic has caused a drop in emergency room visits.

The Medical Director of UnityPoint Health-Des Moines’ Emergency Department says ER visits are down 30 to 40 percent the past two months.

Dr. Clint Hawthorne said protocols are in place to protect patients from COVID-19. “Upon entering, everyone gets a mask. There is one visitor allowed in the emergency department because of the dynamic nature of patient care in the emergency department. Right upon entering, we screen patients for COVID, with a set of screening questions, and then we cohort them, meaning we take all the patients who screen positive and we direct bed them right to a room so they are isolated,” he said.

Dr. Hawthorne said the decline could be partly due to not as many traumatic accidents as people stayed home. However, he’s concerned people are avoiding emergency treatment because of the novel coronavirus.  

“The same number of patients are experiencing heart attacks, strokes, sepsis. All of those things are occurring with the same amount of frequency, but what we’re seeing is patients are coming in one, two, three days later than they should because they are concerned about whether they will be safe when they come to the emergency department. Once we get our hands on them, we have options to treat them, but those options become less and less as time passes,” said Dr. Hawthorne.

A stroke is especially time sensitive. You only have a few hours after onset of symptoms to deliver clot busting medications. Stroke symptoms include weakness, numbness, or loss of movement in your face, arm, or leg, especially if it’s only on one side. Trouble speaking, understanding others or confusion and a loss of balance are additional signs.

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