ER Visits at VA Medical Centers Have Fallen Sharply, and Scientists Are Concerned

(U.S. Army)
(U.S. Army)

Admissions to Department of Veterans Affairs medical centers for emergency health conditions dropped 42% in the first five weeks of the pandemic compared to the month before, according to research published Friday by scientists at New York University and Mount Sinai medical schools in New York.

The steepest declines were in appendicitis-related issues, which dropped off by nearly 57%, and stroke, which declined by nearly 52%. VA facilities also saw decreases in admission rates for heart attacks, heart failure and other emergency health requirements.

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Physicians have observed declines in the number of patients seeking medical care during the pandemic, and the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention reported last week that emergency room visits fell by 42% in the first several weeks of the pandemic compared with the number of visits the previous year.

The VA study, conducted by Dr. Mark Schwartz, a professor in the departments of population health and medicine at NYU's Grossman School of Medicine, and Aaron Baum, with the department of health system design and global health at Mount Sinai's Icahn School of Medicine, is the first to show just how the pandemic affected care for patients at the largest unified health system in the country.

"The reduction in admissions observed should raise serious concerns about the well-being and health outcomes of patients who are not receiving inpatient care for conditions that require emergency treatment," the researchers wrote.

The number of patients admitted for the novel coronavirus grew nearly one hundredfold in the time period addressed by the study, from 26 patients between Jan. 29 and March 10 to 2,458 from March 11 to April 21.

The researchers found that the decrease in admissions for emergency health conditions was proportionate or greater to the decrease in overall admissions at VA medical centers and "unlikely" to be attributable to canceled elective surgeries or lower disease incidence.

"Many patients may be avoiding hospitals to minimize risk of ... infection," they wrote.

The VA saw a 10% jump in its number of active COVID-19 cases over the weekend, from 1,541 on Friday to 1,706 Monday. According to the VA, a total of 15,906 veterans have been confirmed to have had the coronavirus since the outbreak began, and 1,346 have died, including 785 veterans at VA medical facilities and 561 in home settings.

-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.

Related: DoD's COVID-19 Cases Pass 10,000 as Army Sees 31% Increase in a Week

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