Health care experts worry about patients putting off doctor visits during pandemic

NBC News
Created: January 12, 2021 02:13 PM

(NBC News) As the COVID-19 pandemic enters its eleventh month, health care experts are still concerned about patients putting off visits to the doctor.

Floridian Will Fontaine is one example.

Fontaine lives for days with his grandchildren, but part way through the pandemic he wasn't able to keep up. 
 
"All of those symptoms kept getting worse, the chest pain, the fatigue, the shortness of breath," he recalls.
 
Worried about COVID-19, he initially put off seeing a doctor, until a call with a cardiologist convinced him to go in.

Doctors discovered a blockage that lead to a triple bypass surgery. 
 
"We were just impressed, every visit after that, the precautions they were taking," Fontaine says. 
 
According a new national survey by the Orlando Health Heart and Vascular Institute, 67% of Americans say they'd be concerned about in-person medical appointments when COVID rates are high in their area, and nearly half say they won't reschedule missed appointments until those rates dropped.

"We're very concerned about individuals that are not coming to the hospital for care," says Orlando Health's Dr. Joel Garcia. 
 
Nationwide, cardiovascular deaths are up.

Researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center found heart disease deaths increased by 11%, and deaths related to high blood pressure increased by 17% after the onset of the pandemic, compared to the previous year. 

It's a trend the group believes may be driven by patients avoiding hospitals and the deferral of elective procedures until it’s too late. 

"It is not the same to treat someone who's stable, and we have time and to treat them under emergency circumstances. The risk is higher," Dr. Garcia explains.

That same survey by Orlando Health also found about three in five people are hesitant to seek treatment in an emergency. 

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