Emergency care teams have noticed a worrying trend of people avoiding or delaying seeking medical treatment, which can have life or death implications. 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, and new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show ER visits from stroke and heart attack patients are down at least 20 percent nationwide since the onset of the pandemic.
Despite the uncertainty, you can count on emergency physicians and nurses 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.
Here are some of the steps emergency departments across the country 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.
- 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 how many visitors a patient can have.
- 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.
- Individuals who test positive are kept separated from non-COVID patients. Some facilities have adopted drive-through testing to prevent potentially contagious individuals from entering the main waiting room. Many emergency departments have separate wings or units, and some have dedicated care teams for patients who’ve tested positive.
- Emergency physicians and nurses are trained to prevent the spread of highly contagious illnesses. They are taught the proper way to put on and take off our protective gear to prevent contamination. In addition to vigorously washing their hands between all patients, emergency physicians will also change clothes after treating a COVID-positive patient.
- Hospitals are taking extra precautions to keep staff and patients safe. Emergency departments have set up separate entrances for staff who have their temperatures and symptoms checked before every shift to be sure they are not showing signs of infection. Your physician, nurses and other health care workers may also be wearing more protective equipment than what you would normally experience.
- Emergency departments have greatly intensified their cleaning and disinfecting efforts. Staff disinfect the common and private areas, as well as the equipment and shared surfaces multiple times throughout the day. Reusable equipment goes through a meticulous cleansing process between each patient, and some hospitals are using disposable instuments like stethoscopes in rooms with known COVID patients.
- Hospitals are using enhanced treatments to decontaminate the air and prevent the spread of the virus. In some cases, patients who test positive may be placed in “negative pressure” rooms, which allow air to flow into the contaminated room and out through designated ventilation, preventing airflow—and potential spread of the virus—back to the rest of the emergency department. Some negative pressure rooms also have an additional UV filtration cycle to remove viral particles and decrease contagions.
- Emergency departments across the country are continually adapting their procedures as we learn more about the virus and how to treat it. Many are utilizing new telehealth technology for remote consultations or enabling patients to connect with loved ones while they're admitted. Check with your local hospital or emergency department to see how they’re adapting to COVID-19.