The Fear of Seeking Care


In our last blog, I raised the issue of having a thorough communication plan for patients, as those waiting for elective surgeries flounder in the void of information.  Many states have lifted restrictions and are now allowing elective procedures to begin.  Yet, another unanticipated consequence of COVID-19 is the fear some patients now have of returning to the hospital for surgery.

According to Dr. Zoran Lasic, an interventional cardiologist at Jamaica Hospital & Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, “the toll on non-COVID patients will be much greater than COVID deaths”.  A recent New England Journal of Medicine article titled “The Untold Toll – The Pandemic’s Effects on Patients without COVID-19” detailed the challenges patients and healthcare overall will face as everyone looks to our “new normal.”  The article clearly paints the picture that many patients who truly need care now may be afraid to seek it.  Countless anecdotes from facilities across the country articulate details of patients that would normally seek treatment for an unusual heart rhythm or abnormal chest pain; those patients now delay trips to the ER or to their Cardiologist out of fear of contracting COVID-19 in the process of seeking healthcare.  Those pondering necessary elective surgeries are even more wary of the potential risks.

The “new normal” means healthcare providers not only must provide patients with crisp information about when they can expect to have the surgery they have been waiting for months to receive, but they also must convince patients that it is safe to do so.  That is a dramatic shift in the healthcare industry.  As Dr. Michael Gross bard, chief of hematology at NYU’s Langone Hospital puts it, “our practice of medicine has changed more in 1 week than in my previous 28 years combined.”

Facilities must consider this patient fear as part of their plan to resume elective procedures.  Patients will want specific details on the processes the hospital has in place to protect them, knowing that COVID positive patients and the staff that treats them are all within the same facility they must enter to get surgery.  The Journal article puts it succinctly in its conclusion, “Perhaps the greatest challenge is an invisible one: how do we help people who are afraid to seek care to begin with?”  Fear is a substantial driver of human behavior.  Managing patient fear may not be top of mind during the elective surgery ramp up period; but will need to be to make sure patients get the care they need.

Together, we can lift each other up!

-Marcus Perez, EVP