Don’t avoid going to the ER because of pandemic, Canadians urged

TORONTO — As provinces issue lockdown orders, curfews and other restrictions to combat record daily COVID-19 cases, it may be tempting to avoid any trips to the hospital, but the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) is urging Canadians to still visit the emergency department should urgent care be needed.

Avoiding or postponing a trip to the ER can result in grave repercussions, CIHI said in an email to CTV News this week, pointing to data collected during the first half of 2020 and released in November. Many patients who finally did go to the ER for care may have been sicker and needed greater interventions, the institute noted.

“During the first wave of the pandemic we saw that some Canadians avoided or delayed visiting emergency departments, which may have had serious consequences for some patients,” says Tracy Johnson, a director for CIHI’s Health System Analysis and Emerging Issues.

By the end of April 2020, emergency department visits across Canada fell by nearly half, or almost 25,000 a day, according to data compiled by CIHI. While numbers edged higher in May and June, visits were still down compared to the same period a year earlier — volumes were about 85 per cent of what they were in June 2019.

While some of the decrease could be attributed to changes in behaviour and protocols during the pandemic — fewer trips to the playground, fewer people driving, fewer people participating in sports activities, as well as cancelled surgeries, for example — it does not explain all of the decreases, according to CIHI. The organization noted that visits involving serious conditions that require resuscitation decreased by about 30 per cent.

CIHI says the message for Canadians is simple: “If you need emergency care, please don’t hesitate to visit the ER.”

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