Don’t put health care on hold because of COVID-19

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, a lot of things in the health care landscape have been uncertain. But one thing has always remained the same: When you need health care, you need it. Don’t put your health on hold.

A study conducted by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and National Public Radio found that between March and August 2020, one in five adults reported their household members were unable to get medical care for serious problems or delayed their care. Of those who reported delaying care, more than half — 57% — said they experienced negative health consequences as a result.

Emergencies won’t wait

Dr. Michael Zabel, a cardiologist with Cardiovascular Specialists of Lawrence, said that delaying care for emergencies such as heart attacks or strokes is particularly worrisome.

“People who would have normally gone to the emergency department but didn’t because they were worried about getting COVID may have died at home,” Zabel said. “Our ED staff is wonderful with their care and techniques. The risk of an individual coming into the ED and getting COVID because of that visit is extremely small.”

Zabel also said that heart failure patients, particularly those who have frequent exacerbations or a history of problems and know that they need to come in, may postpone their appointments because they’re afraid of contracting COVID-19.

“Patients who wait to come in may land in the ICU when they wouldn’t have if they’d come in earlier. In some cases, they might not have needed to be admitted at all,” Zabel said.

“If you’re having symptoms that could be a heart attack or heart failure, don’t hesitate to come to the emergency department and get evaluated,” Zabel continued. “Your chances of having a complication from riding that out at home are much higher.”

It’s not just emergent care that patients have put off. Some may be willing to visit the doctor for routine exams or to be seen for other issues but are reluctant to participate in follow-up care.

“We’re seeing that some patients are reluctant to go to physical therapy,” said Dr. Douglass Stull, an orthopedic surgeon at OrthoKansas. “If they don’t go, they might need surgery because therapy may have prevented that. And for patients who have had surgery, their outcomes aren’t as good because they didn’t go to PT.”

Cold, flu or COVID-19?

With flu season in full swing, it may be difficult for you to tell whether your illness is a cold, flu or COVID-19. Fever, cough and shortness of breath are the three most common symptoms of COVID-19-related illness, but Dr. Jason Kimball, LMH Health hospitalist, says that some people don’t have typical symptoms.

“It’s not usually until the second week of the viral illness when people develop more severe respiratory complications, but patients can become dangerously hypoxic — dangerously short of oxygen — and not even feel short of breath,” he said. “We encourage patients with progressive symptoms of any sort to reach out to their primary care providers or other sources of care for an evaluation. If patients at risk of developing respiratory complications of COVID come in sooner, we have therapies that can, at times, help avoid complications that can be fatal.”

LMH Health has ten primary care clinics across Lawrence, Douglas and Leavenworth Counties to meet your needs. Visit to find a physician to help you stay healthy and well.

The hospital is a safe place

Keeping patients safe is LMH Health’s top priority. The hospital follows recommendations from its infectious disease physician team, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

• Screening and masking all patients, employees, contract workers and providers upon arrival

• Requiring masks to be worn by everyone at all times inside the facilities

• Restricting visitors to the hospital and clinics

• Using telehealth for patient appointments wherever possible

• Providing regular reminders to staff about infection prevention protocol and procedures

• Monitoring supply levels for personal protective equipment

“The hospital may very well be the safest place to be in regard to preventing the spread of COVID,” said Dr. Marc Scarbrough, hospitalist and chief medical information officer for LMH Health. “People shouldn’t avoid contacting their physician when they’re ill — COVID or not.”

Preventing the spread

“You can be asymptomatic and spread COVID without realizing it,” Scarbrough said. “We continue to see small group and family spread, as we tend to see parents and their children admitted at the same time. People should assume they’re infected and act accordingly.”

COVID-19 vaccines are being rolled out in the community, but limited supply and great demand means the pace is slow. It’s important to be patient and continue wearing masks and practicing social distancing even after receiving both doses of the vaccine.

Stull said he’s aware that the uncertainty is weighing on the community, but there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Patients shouldn’t be afraid to seek care, whether that’s at the hospital, the emergency department or a clinic.

“COVID is frustrating because of all of the unknowns, but it’s important to be patient and do the things we should be doing,” he said. “We can see patients safely and can do all the things we did before COVID — surgery, imaging, physical therapy. I encourage people that if they would’ve sought care then, it’s safe for them to do it now.”

— Autumn Bishop is the marketing communications manager at LMH Health, which is a major sponsor of the Journal-World’s Health section.


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