(File photo by Advocate staff)

(File photo by Advocate staff)

Emergency department visits plummeted during pandemic: health researchers

Red Deer doctor urges people not to fear going to emergency department because of pandemic

Emergency department visits dropped dramatically, and fewer people got life-saving surgery in the early days of the pandemic, say health researchers.

In mid-April, emergency room visits across Canada dropped by half — to 25,000 a day.

By the end of June, the numbers had risen, but were still only at 85 per cent of the levels of June 2019, says the Canadian Institute for Health Information in a report published Thursday.

“Overall, fewer people sought care for common concerns like abdominal pain or colds and flu, as well as for more significant concerns like cardiac events and trauma.”

Red Deer’s Dr. Peter Bouch was not surprised by the institute’s findings.

Many people were leery of going to hospital, especially in the early weeks of the pandemic, when much was unknown about the path the virus was to take.

Bouch warns though that those suffering from unusual or significant pain should not let fear of COVID-19 stop them from seeking emergency help.

One patient of his delayed seeking treatment for chest pain for two weeks in the early months of the pandemic, because he feared getting infected in the hospital. When he finally got checked out, it was determined he had suffered a heart attack.

Fortunately, in his case, it was a minor heart attack and he has recovered.

“That’s just one case of a guy being quite lucky,” said Bouch, who is with the Red Deer Primary Care Network.

“But who knows how many patients didn’t go and decided to wait it out, and ‘boom,’ they don’t have a small (heart attack), they have a bigger one and then they die.

“The public needs to be educated, and I try to encourage my patients, that if you have valid reasons for going (to the emergency department) that’s the place you need to go.

“The chance of getting COVID in the hospital is probably way less than anywhere else.”

Hospitals are disinfected and patients and health providers are screened for COVID. Bouch said he is screened every time he visits one of the hospital wards on his rounds.

Patients and health-care workers wear masks and wash their hands regularly, among other steps to prevent the virus from spreading.

People with COVID symptoms are isolated until their test results come back.

“Emergency is not a dangerous place to go,” he said.

Not going to the ER could make someone’s medical problem much worse. Bouch offers the example of deep vein thrombosis, which involves blood clots, usually in the legs.

Left untreated, blood clots can hit the lungs, and in severe cases, cause life-threatening blockages.

That fewer people felt comfortable visiting a hospital emergency department during a pandemic is not surprising.

However, researchers were taken aback by a decline in the rate of life-saving surgeries, such as pacemaker insertions, bypass surgeries and cancer surgeries.

“What we didn’t expect to see during Wave 1 was a 17 to 21 per cent decline in life-saving and urgent surgeries,” the report says.

“We don’t know exactly what led to this decline or its impact on the patients who didn’t receive those procedures.”

Bouch wonders the same thing. There are likely people whose mammograms or colonoscopies were delayed, who will later find out they have cancer.

The potential health impacts of not catching diseases sooner will need to be studied and the lessons learned used for how future pandemics are handled, says the report.

The institute says the data proves that public health messaging and the intentional slowdown of surgeries in the spring had a “significant impact” on both Canadians’ comfort with seeking care and care providers’ comfort in providing it.

“These actions ensured that resources were available for a potential surge of COVID-19 patients, but may also have created unintended consequences.

“Given these potentially unintended consequences, did pandemic preparations go too far,” researchers ask, adding they do not have the answer.


Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Although B.C. has not made masks mandatory in public indoor spaces, some business owners are requiring all customers to wear them before entering their store. (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Mandatory indoor mask wearing starts Monday in Red Deer

A municipal bylaw requiring masking in public indoor places takes effect Monday… Continue reading

A pedestrian makes their way through the snow in downtown Ottawa on Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Wild winter, drastic swings in store for Canada this year: Weather Network

Wild winter, drastic swings in store for Canada this year: Weather Network

In this Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020, photo taken through a camera lens the word "pandemic" in seen in a dictionary in Washington. Dictionary.com declared “pandemic” its 2020 word of the year. (AP Photo/Jenny Kane)
Dictionary.com picks ‘pandemic’ as its 2020 word of the year

NEW YORK — On Dec. 31, China reported a cluster of pneumonia… Continue reading

NDP Leader John Horgan, left, speaks as local candidate Ravi Kahlon listens during a campaign stop at Kahlon's home in North Delta, B.C., on April 18, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C.’s economic recovery minister says getting through pandemic will be team approach

VICTORIA — The British Columbia cabinet minister appointed to lead the province’s… Continue reading

In this photo released by the official website of the Iranian Defense Ministry, military personnel carry the flag draped coffin of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a scientist who was killed on Friday, in a funeral ceremony in Tehran, Iran, Monday, Nov. 30, 2020. Iran held the funeral service for Fakhrizadeh, who founded its military nuclear program two decades ago, with the Islamic Republic's defense minister vowing to continue the man's work "with more speed and more power." (Iranian Defense Ministry via AP)
Iran says Israel remotely killed military nuclear scientist

TEHRAN, Iran — A top Iranian security official on Monday accused Israel… Continue reading

Idyllic winter scenes are part of the atmosphere of the holiday season, and are depicted in many seasonal movies. How much do you know about holiday movies? Put your knowledge to the test. (Pixabay.com)
QUIZ: Test your knowledge of holiday movies and television specials

The festive season is a time for relaxing and enjoying some seasonal favourites

FILE - In this Feb. 11, 2019 file photo, George Clooney participates in the "Catch-22" panel during the Hulu presentation at the Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour at The Langham Huntington in Pasadena, Calif. In a Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020, interview on “CBS Sunday Morning,” Clooney said he's been cutting his own hair for more than two decades with a Flowbee device. (Photo by Willy Sanjuan/Invision/AP, File)
George Clooney’s secret to cutting his hair, as seen on TV

LOS ANGELES — George Clooney is just like us, maybe. The star… Continue reading

Gold medallists in the ice dance, free dance figure skating Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, of Canada, pose during their medals ceremony at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Charlie Riedel
Ice dance star Tessa Virtue happily out of her comfort zone in Queens EMBA program

TORONTO — Tessa Virtue doesn’t feel the same sense of exhilaration or… Continue reading

Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre speaks during a news conference Monday, Nov. 16, 2020 in Ottawa. Poilievre says building up the Canadian economy post-pandemic can't be achieved without a massive overhaul of the tax system and regulatory regime. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Conservatives attack Trudeau’s ‘reset’ but they have ideas for their own

‘We don’t need subsidized corporate welfare schemes that rely on endless bailouts from the taxpayer’

In this undated photo issued by the University of Oxford, a volunteer is administered the coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, in Oxford, England. Pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca said Monday Nov. 23, 2020, that late-stage trials showed its coronavirus vaccine was up to 90% effective, giving public health officials hope they may soon have access to a vaccine that is cheaper and easier to distribute than some of its rivals. (University of Oxford/John Cairns via AP)
Moderna chairman says Canada near head of line for 20 million vaccine doses

Trudeau created a firestorm when he said Canadians will have to wait a bit to get vaccinated

There were 47 new COVID-19 cases in Alberta Tuesday. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson)
Spread of COVID-19 in Brampton, Ont., linked to systemic factors, experts say

‘We’re tired. We’re numb. We’re overworked. We’re frustrated, because it’s not our rules’

The courthouse in Iqaluit is shown on Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020. Three Nunavut judges, including the chief justice, are at odds over whether prison conditions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic should be considered when sentencing offenders in the territory. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Emma Tranter
Nunavut judges disagree on how to sentence offenders during pandemic

IQALUIT — Three Nunavut judges, including the territory’s chief justice, are at… Continue reading

A corrections officer opens the door to a cell in the segregation unit at the federal Fraser Valley Institution for Women during a media tour, in Abbotsford, B.C., Thursday, Oct. 26, 2017. Independent reviews of the hundreds of inmates placed in segregation over the past year found only a handful were inappropriate, new government data indicate. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Few federal inmates moved from solitary after external reviews, new data show

‘There can be rare cases where the removal may not be immediate’

A couple embrace during a ceremony to mark the end of a makeshift memorial for victims of the Toronto van attack, at Yonge St. and Finch Ave. in Toronto on Sunday, June 3, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Cole Burston
‘I’ve been spared a lot,’ van attack survivor says as she watches trial alone

Court has set up a private room for victims and families of those killed in the Toronto van attack

Most Read