Physicians Express Concerns About Medical Distancing

Virtua clinicians report lower patient volume for medical conditions other than COVID-19 

Since March, the concept of “social distancing” went from unheard-of to commonplace across the world. Now, medical staff at Virtua Health’s five hospitals and 280 other care locations are reporting “medical distancing,” meaning notable dips in patient volume for nearly all other medical conditions and treatments apart from the coronavirus.

“This trend appears to be widespread, and it is certainly cause for concern. We can understand that people may be avoiding health care settings and services for fear of exposure to the coronavirus, but delaying medical care can have considerable, lasting consequences,” said Dr. Reginald Blaber, executive vice president and chief clinical officer.

Although some medical treatments, such as elective surgeries and wellness visits, have been postponed in response to the rise of COVID-19, Virtua leadership says that does not fully explain the overall decline in patient volume. And although Virtua welcomed about 1,480 new babies during the first nine weeks of the pandemic and cared for about 300 new cancer patients, other medical specialties, including cardiology and orthopedics, were notably underutilized when compared to past averages.

Dr. Ibrahim Moussa, an interventional cardiologist, reports several recent instances of people who allowed neurological and cardiac symptoms to persist for a few days before ultimately recognizing they needed medical care. 

“By the time they arrived to the hospital, they required emergency intervention or a high-risk procedure. Had they taken action earlier, the treatment would likely have been less urgent, less invasive, and resulted in better outcomes,” Dr. Moussa said.

Dr. Samuel Weiner, a primary care physician, says that he is especially concerned for people with preexisting conditions. 

“If you have hypertension or diabetes or heart disease, you can’t afford to have a ‘wait-and-see’ attitude. I want to remind our South Jersey community that we are here for you, whether it’s at a medical practice, urgent care, inpatient facility, or even remotely via telemedicine,” Dr. Weiner said. “I also encourage people with behavioral health concerns to be vigilant in self-care and staying connected to their providers.” 

Dr. Weiner compares his rationale to vehicle maintenance: 

“If you own a car and a warning light comes on the dashboard, you know it’s time to take action. Putting it off only allows the problem to worsen and compound,” he said. “I don’t want our patients to show up to our offices with severe problems 30 or 60 days from now, when an appointment today could, perhaps, easily resolve the issue.” 

Dr. Blaber echoes that sentiment:

“Better days are ahead, and so I want all of us to take care of ourselves and get help for medical problems.“