The Risks Involved in Delaying Medical Care

Every day dozens of patients walk into the Emergency Departments (ED) and Outpatient Department (OPD) seeking timely as opposed to delaying medical care. A multitude of these cases is of people with life-threatening medical emergencies or illnesses. May it be an injury or present symptoms that require urgent treatment. However, there is another genre of patients who do not deem their illness or symptoms urgent enough and believe that they can wait before seeking emergency care, or maybe, they are not quite sure how to handle the situation, especially now in the current COVID-19 climate.

You might be having a pesky cough, a persistent discomfort that you can alleviate by taking over-the-counter medications, or maybe a chronic illness that you think can be delayed until it presents itself as severe enough to warrant a visit to the nearest emergency room. Primarily speaking, there are no general guidelines that can tell you how soon to go or how long to wait, especially if you think you can manage these symptoms at home or delay your visit to the medical professional.

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The Need for Emergency Medical Care

Emergency medical care has long been perceived as the care you may require when you have a life-threatening condition like the sudden onset of severe symptoms due to an ongoing medical condition or trauma. It also plays a crucial part in every healthcare facility, and in most instances, it is the first point of contact for anyone seeking urgent medical care.

To avail this kind of care, a select people, who think their current condition is not urgent enough, wait until they are too sick, and as a result, the need for hospitalization ensues, when in fact this could have been prevented. Simply put, they just avoid or delay seeking medical care until it’s probably too late. But why?

One study that sought to find out why people avoid seeking medical care determined that factors related to the healthcare facility and the physicians, was high up on the list, followed by a person’s low perceived need to seek medical care because of the expectation that the said symptoms or illness would improve over time. Other reasons included time constraints, traditional barriers, and lack of health insurance.

That said, in the current COVID climate, it is logical why people would choose to stay away from hospitals. In fact a study of Seattle’s largest health facilities showed that emergency department visits fell by up to 20% in February and March 2020. And closer to home, in the last 3 weeks of April and early May, UAE hospitals and clinics saw up to 70% decline in out-patient visits of cases that did not require immediate medical care or deemed to not be of an emergency nature. But although these non-emergency procedures have resumed, people are still delaying seeking treatment, for fear of contracting the virus.

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Why It Is Very Safe to Go to Hospitals and Clinics, Especially King’s

While this fear of hospitals and clinics due to the virus is understandable, it should not be a reason to delay your visit to the ED or the OPD depending on the emergency at hand. Hospitals and clinics are safer than most other places and are qualified and well-equipped to provide timely medical care.

At King’s College Hospital in Dubai Hills and its respective medical centres in Dubai Marina and Jumeirah, we have taken extra precautionary steps in addition to our strict infection control measures. These include pre-screening of anyone entering the facilities, thorough continuous sanitization process, implementation of mandatory social distancing and mask-wearing, hand sanitation dispensers throughout the facilities, modified appointment times to avoid waiting times and time spent in waiting rooms, and touch-free amenities just to name a few.

If you are afraid of seeking medical care, then there is a high probability that the risks involved in delaying any urgent care either in the ED or OPD, are greater than the risks posed by Coronavirus.

The Risks Involved in Delaying Medical Care

With this in mind, most health facilities in the region and around the globe have also introduced telemedicine, which can be an alternative to seeking emergency medical care in a hospital or clinic. In fact, non-contact patient monitoring and online consultations are set to excel post-COVID-19. This means that delaying any form of treatment due to coronavirus should not be an excuse.

Delayed Medical Care Should Not Be An Option

Regardless, the choice to visit a hospital for emergency care or on an outpatient basis depends on the patient and the kind of symptoms he or she is presenting. But you should not wait too long. Seeking treatment for any kind of ailment no matter how small is vital for short and long-term health and wellness. The notion of “why fix it if it’s not broken” should not exist when it comes to overall health and wellbeing.

Some of the symptoms or ailments that you may reckon to be ‘small’, could be the beginning of something more sinister. And by visiting the ED or OPD to have a physician address it, chances are high that it can be nipped in the bud. This ‘small’ ailment can be anything from an itchy mole, lack of sleep, and even a small bump that you may want to ‘wait and see’ or hope it goes away.

The same goes for chronic conditions which have a way of changing or progressing if not attended to in an urgent manner. They may not present any severe symptoms, but that doesn’t mean the said symptoms should be ignored. One scientific research by the American Heart Association Council on Cardiovascular Nursing and Stroke Council established that effective provision of conclusive medical care for stroke and acute coronary syndrome is limited by a patient’s delay in seeking treatment. This delay eventually leads to a significant number of individuals developing potentially preventable complications.

Additionally, for the most part, health concerns both physical and psychological can impact not only yourself but those closest to you if left untreated, or if there is a delay in seeking pertinent care.

Why Hospitals Are the Safer Option for Emergency Medical Care

The emergency department in any given hospital is the first point of contact for different ailments, conditions or trauma. At King’s in Dubai and the flagship King’s College Hospital in the UK, the emergency department is open 24 hours a day, and on hand are highly trained staff including Emergency medicine doctors and experienced nurses. The hospital has the capability to run assessments that may not be immediately available at a smaller clinic.

Christian Schuhmacher – CEO, King’s College Hospital London, Dubai

After the initial assessment on arrival, if the medical concern cannot be addressed in the ED and requires further medical care, the patient may be referred to the concerned speciality within the hospital. For instance, if you are exhibiting cardiovascular symptoms, you will be referred to a cardiologist within the facility, and if it’s something more sinister like a lump, your referral will be to an oncologist, who is also present at the same location. This entire process promotes uniformity in the patient care journey without compromising their health and safety.

With the integrated healthcare services available in the UAE, it is now easier than ever for one to access the care they need from any government or private health facility without delay.

Authored by Christian Schuhmacher, CEO at King’s College Hospital London in Dubai