Overlake doctor: Do not delay medical care for fear of COVID-19

Apr 13, 2020, 11:53 AM
medical care...
Landmarks and buildings across the nation displayed blue lights to show support for health care workers and first responders on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)
(Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

While uncertainty and fear was heightened at the start of the coronavirus outbreak in Washington state, Dr. Eric Shipley, medical director at Overlake Medical Center’s emergency department, said the overall surge has remained low, and they’re actually seeing fewer emergency cases than normal.

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“That is the biggest paradox of this entire pandemic, to be honest,” Shipley told KIRO Radio’s Chris Sullivan on Seattle’s Morning News. “After the initial two weeks, we thought we could continue to have surges across the board. But hospitals have not seen that in Washington, and really across the country other than in New York.”

The current volume of the emergency department at Overlake is 50% of normal. This is so low that Shipley said his neighbors and people he’s talked to don’t believe him, wondering how that’s possible in the middle of a pandemic.

“And then we recently looked at EMS, and ambulance transports, and fire departments,” Shipley added. “Their transports are significantly lower.”

In addition, patients with specific illnesses, heart attacks, stroke, are seeing a half normal admission rate.

“The fear is that people are truly scared to death of going to the hospital because of COVID, but they’re remaining home with their chest pain and their stroke symptoms that can be very, very pronounced and serious,” Shipley said. “We’ve even seen mental health presentations decline rapidly. And I think we’re all pretty confident that all of these illnesses are actually likely more present based on what’s occuring.”

Shipley said, for example, when patients have influenza, their risk of heart disease increases.

“So it’s really paradoxical that these things are so low, and I think it’s a reflection of the fear and, in some cases, the desire to stay out of hospitals so that they don’t get overwhelmed,” he said.

Shipley reminded listeners that it is important to not delay medical care. Do not avoid the hospital or refuse to seek medical attention out of fear of coronavirus.

“One, hospitals have capacity,” Shipley said. “You should absolutely come if you’re having life threatening illnesses, including chest pain, stroke symptoms, et cetera. Second, nearly every hospital in King County is cohorting their patients that have COVID.”

Both in emergency departments and in hospitals more generally, patients who present with complaints that are not infectious would be isolated from patients with the virus, Shipley explained.

“Don’t delay your necessary health care out of fear of COVID because … you’ll be doing yourself no favors for that purpose,” he said. “And allow the hospitals and clinics to separate those appropriately.”

In terms of the progression to return to normal life, Shipley said we need to trust our public health experts and be cautious that we don’t move too quickly.

For now, Overlake Medical Center is stocked and doing well having passed the initial rush, though Shipley recognized it’s not the same story for other hospitals in different parts of the state or the country.

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“[Four] weeks ago, it was frightening … when we had 60 patients admitted at our hospital, which was the most in King County at that time, with all the folks in PPE, you can imagine how you’re burning through that,” Shipley said. ” … We’re in a much better place today, and honestly, much of that is because of the contributions and generosity of our cities.”

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Overlake doctor: Do not delay medical care for fear of COVID-19