Hospitals across the United States are seeing fewer stroke patients coming to their facilities for care — and a new paper ties that trend to the coronavirus pandemic.
The paper, published Friday in the New England Journal of Medicine as a letter to the editor, suggests that the number of patients in the United States undergoing imaging for stroke evaluation has decreased by 39% since before the pandemic.
"These are stroke patients who need to be treated," said Dr. Greg Albers, director of the Stanford Stroke Center and professor of neurology at Stanford University, who was an author of the letter.
Albers called the 39% drop in stroke patients "unheard of."
"Our concern is that many people are more afraid of going to an ER than they are of having a stroke. This is a critical error because stroke treatments can be highly effective and the chance of being infected in an ER is minute. It is very important that patients with symptoms of stroke call 911," Albers said. "If the stroke is causing disabling symptoms there’s a huge advantage to getting it treated."
In the letter, researchers from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and Stanford University in California wrote that they examined data on 231,753 stroke patients who underwent neuroimaging in 856 hospitals in the United States from July 1, 2019 through April 27.
The data showed that the number of patients who underwent imaging decreased from 1.18 patients per day per hospital in February to 0.72 patients per day per hospital in late March and early April.
"We were very surprised to see that many people of all ages, and even those with severe strokes, were not presenting to the hospital for evaluation and treatment. Even in states with few Covid cases, patients were hesitant to be seen in ERs," Albers said.
"Not only are patients afraid to go in but some physicians have been hesitant to send patients to the ER, even paramedics may be concerned," he added.