July 11, 2020 by Peter B. Laird
The Top Four Myths About Seeking ER Care in a Pandemic
Nobody wants to go the emergency room. But now, because of COVID-19, some people are afraid to go, thinking it will be too busy or that they might be exposed to the coronavirus. We spoke with several doctors and executives with Baptist Health South Florida, who dispelled some common myths about visiting the ER during the pandemic. Bottom line? If you’re faced with a life-threatening medical emergency, don’t delay care – your life could depend on it.
MYTH #1: “I can wait and see if my symptoms go away before I decide if I need to go to the ER.”
FACT: If you’re having a medical emergency, don’t delay vital care – call 911 or go to the ER.
Cardiologists at Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute, part of Baptist Health South Florida, say the number of cardiac and stroke cases treated there has declined as much as 50 percent over the same time last year.
Jonathan Fialkow, M.D., deputy medical director and chief of cardiology at Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute, believes this means a large number of patients who need critical care are avoiding going to the hospital for fear of being exposed to COVID-19—often with tragic results.
Dr. Fialkow advises people to not ignore their symptoms, especially if they have common risk factors such as obesity, smoking or a family history of heart disease. “If you’re having symptoms that could be a heart attack, don’t drive yourself to the ER—call 911. The EMS technicians will be able to stabilize you en route to the hospital.”
MYTH #2: “I am worried about being exposed to COVID-19”
FACT: All Baptist Health ERs have strict protocols to protect patients from COVID-19.
Baptist Health is employing the latest safety protocols and taking extraordinary steps to ensure the safety of patients and staff at all of its facilities throughout South Florida.
According to Javier Pérez-Fernández, M.D., pulmonologist and director of critical care at Baptist Hospital, all twelve of Baptist Health’s ERs maintain special protocols for patients who have tested positive for or are suspected to have COVID-19.
“We isolate patients in a dedicated area to avoid cross-contamination with other patients and carefully clean and sanitize rooms after every patient, all while continuously maintaining the utmost protective protocols in all common areas of the hospital,” says Dr. Pérez-Fernández. Baptist Health also maintains an adequate supply of masks, gloves and other personal protective equipment for its staff, he adds.
Nancy Batista-Rodriguez, chief executive officer for Baptist Outpatient Services for Baptist Health, says the health system has adopted additional safety practices to help keep patients and staff safe.
“We’re taking every possible precaution to protect the health of our patients and staff,” Batista-Rodriguez says. “This includes limiting the number of visitors and ensuring proper social distancing in our facilities; conducting temperature checks and screenings at all entry points; requiring masks to be worn inside, and thoroughly cleaning and sanitizing our lobbies, waiting rooms, equipment and all high-touch surfaces throughout the day.”
MYTH #3: “The ER will be too busy with COVID-19 patients to treat me.”
FACT: Even in a pandemic, Baptist Health’s experts can quickly assess and triage all emergencies.
Everyone who seeks emergency treatment from Baptist Health can expect to get the professional, compassionate, quality care they need – quickly – regardless of whatever else is happening in the ER.
Sergio Segarra, M.D., emergency medicine specialist with Baptist Hospital, says the ER staff has the training and experience to care for multiple patients at the same time. Referring to the coronavirus pandemic, Dr. Segarra says, “Yes, this is an emergency but emergencies are what we train for and what we’ve devoted our lives to. We’ve been stretched at times but never to the point of being overwhelmed.”
To help the ER staff better care for you, Dr. Segarra advises anyone seeking emergency treatment to bring these items with them:
- Mask or cloth face covering
- List of any allergies you have
- List of all your medicines
- Photo ID
- Your medical history
- Your insurance card
You should also bring the emergency contact information of a family member, in case that person can’t come into the ER with you.
MYTH #4: “I can’t go to the ER because I’m being treated for cancer and my immune system is compromised.”
FACT: Baptist Health is taking extraordinary precautions to make sure the ER is safe for all patients.
Experts say that cancer patients – especially those undergoing chemotherapy and radiation therapy – are at a higher risk for contracting COVID-19 and for having more severe symptoms if they do get the virus.
“If you’re a cancer patient being treated with chemotherapy or radiation, you do need to be extra careful, as these can suppress your immune system not just during treatment but for months afterwards,” says Michael Zinner, M.D., chief executive officer and executive medical director of Miami Cancer Institute. “That said, I can tell you that with all of the precautions being taken at our facilities, going to the ER is safer than going to the grocery store,” he says.
For those who require emergency care during or following their cancer treatment, Dr. Zinner advises calling your physician first and notifying ER staff upon your arrival so that specific arrangements can be made for your care. Patients of Miami Cancer Institute may also call upon the Express Symptom Management Team, which is staffed by an ER physician and a group of Advance Practice nurses and may be able to help you resolve your issue without having to go to the ER.
Concerned you may have coronavirus?
Use our online Coronavirus Assessment tool or call our COVID-19 hotline, 1-833-MYBAPTIST (833-692-2784). To see a doctor on your phone from the comfort and safety of your home, download Baptist Health Care On Demand.