Emergency physicians have noticed a worrying trend of people avoiding or delaying seeking medical care, which can have life or death implications. In fact, a recent poll from the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) found that nearly a third of people have delayed getting care out of concern around COVID-19.
Despite all the uncertainty around us, you can count on emergency physicians to be ready and able to care for you anytime. Whether you are concerned you have COVID-19 or are having another medical emergency, it is critical to know when to go to the emergency department.
Emergency physicians are expertly trained to protect our patients during a pandemic and have protocols in place to prevent the spread of the virus to other people to come to the emergency department. Each response depends on virus’s immediate impact on that region. As some communities face the peak of the COVID-19 outbreak in their area, other emergency departments are quiet as they prepare for a surge of cases.
Here are some of the steps emergency departments large and small are taking to keep everyone as safe as possible.
Anyone who comes to the emergency department will be screened on arrival for COVID-19 symptoms. In addition to the mild or moderate symptoms, emergency warning signs for COVID-19 include trouble breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, confusion or inability to arouse, bluish lips or face.
Some emergency departments have created separate entrances and external waiting rooms for patients with known symptoms. Others will ask you to stay in your car until space in becomes available. Once you have been screened, you will go through a triage process to determine how urgently your condition needs to be addressed.
Be prepared to come alone and connect with your loved ones virtually if you get admitted. To limit the number of people in the emergency department, many are restricting their rules around visitation a patient can have.
Your emergency care team may look a little different. You will see that your emergency physician and other health care workers are wearing more protective equipment than what you would normally experience. Depending on the hospital, some doctors and nurses have run out of equipment and are protecting themselves any way that they can. It may look unnerving at first, but this is all done out of an abundance of caution. One in five positive COVID-19 cases has been a health worker. We have to protect ourselves in order to protect you.
Check with your local hospital or emergency department to see how they’re adapting to COVID-19. Some facilities have adopted drive through testing in some areas and many are utilizing new telehealth technology for remote consultations or creating chances for patients to speak with their families. Emergency departments across the country are continually adapting their procedures as we learn more about the virus and how to treat it.