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The home for VPR's coverage of health and health industry issues affecting the state of Vermont.

Drop Off In Patient Traffic Triggers Concerns Among Vermont Doctors

Riverside Community Health
Abagael Giles
Many healthcare providers across Vermont are seeing a drop in patient visits amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

As the number of patient visits drops off at healthcare providers across Vermont, doctors are becoming increasingly worried that some people are forgoing necessary medical care in order to avoid exposure to the new coronavirus.

One of the odd outcomes of the coronavirus pandemic is that many healthcare providers are seeing fewer people now than they did before COVID-19 arrived in Vermont.

“I will say certainly we are seeing many less patients,” said Dr. Joseph Hagan, a pediatrician who practices in Burlington.

Looking for answers? Here is a list of regularly updated FAQs about the new coronavirus.

Hagan said there may be lots of reasons patient traffic is down these days. With schools, businesses and other public gathering places mostly shut down, common colds and stomach bugs aren’t making the rounds like they usually would. And school sports injuries are, no doubt, at an all-time low.

"People still get rashes. People still get sprains and fractures. And these still need to be dealt with." - Dr. Joseph Hagan

Hagan, however, said he worries there’s another reason for the decline in patient traffic.

“I wonder too if people are on some level believing that the only important health issue now is COVID-19,” Hagan said.

Jessa Barnard, executive director of the Vermont Medical Society, said her organization is concerned that “people are putting off even really serious care right now, because of fears of leaving the house or being in a medical setting, or not wanting to burden the healthcare system or bother their doctor.”

Barnard said that even in a pandemic, routine preventive care, such as a vaccine for example, still warrants a trip to a primary care doctor. And she said it can be especially dangerous to forego medical care for more emergent situations, like a laceration, a broken bone or chest pain.

“The concern is that [putting that care off is] leading to worse outcomes down the road or more serious problems down the road,” Barnard said.

Dr. Ryan Sexton, the director of emergency services at Northeastern Vermont Regional Hospital in St. Johnsbury, said that over the past four weeks, patient visits to his emergency department are down by more than 50% from the same time period last year.

More from VPR: For Some Home Health Nurses, Exposure To Coronavirus Comes With The Job

Sexton said he’s seen several instances in which people have waited too long to seek treatment.

Hagan has a simple piece of advice for anyone wondering whether they need to seek medical care:

“Pick up the phone. If you have something that you would have called for this time last year, pick up the phone and call,” Hagan said. “There are other respiratory symptoms besides COVID-19. People still get rashes. People still get sprains and fractures. And these still need to be dealt with.”

With telemedicine now in full swing at most practices, Hagan and Barnard said many people won’t even need to leave their house to get good medical care.

More from VPR: What's It Like On The Front Lines Of A Pandemic? Ask A Paramedic

And they said hospitals and primary care practices have instituted strict infectious disease protocols to minimize the risk of contracting COVID-19 at medical facilities.

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