Poll finds Americans delay or avoid medical care cue to COVID-19 concerns

With some waiting rooms nearly empty, emergency physicians are seeing a worrisome trend play out across the country. Nearly a third of American adults report they have delayed or avoided medical care because they are concerned about contracting COVID-19, according to a new poll from Morning Consult and the American College of Emergency Physicians.

“Waiting to see a doctor if you think you’re having a medical emergency could be life threatening,” said William Jaquis, MD, FACEP, president of ACEP. “While it’s important to stay home and follow social distancing guidelines, it’s critical to always know when to go to the emergency department.”

Citizens have understandable angst about seeking medical care outside their homes during a pandemic. Nearly three-quarters of respondents are concerned about overstressing the health care system, and more than half are worried they will not be able to get treated by a physician if they need care, with lower-income adults among those most concerned about access.

“Despite all the uncertainty around us, the emergency department remains the best place for you to get medical care any time you need it,” said Dr. Jaquis. “Emergency physicians are expertly trained for these situations and have protocols in place to keep their patients protected even in the midst of a pandemic.”

The poll results also made clear that there is a strong appetite for more federal action to protect and support emergency departments and protect frontline health workers. Nearly all respondents said the federal government needs to support efforts to increase access to protective equipment for emergency physicians. And nine of out 10 believe that emergency physicians should receive hazard pay as they risk their lives to protect patients.

“Emergency physicians are risking their lives on the frontlines to protect our communities. We must do more to make sure that these brave heroes are supported and have the protective equipment that they need today and, in the weeks and months ahead,” said Dr. Jaquis. “This pandemic gives our leaders and legislators an opportunity to address immediate needs and strengthen our health care safety net. We have to make sure that patients remain confident in our health system at a time when everyone needs us most.”

The poll was conducted on April 18 through April 20 among a national sample of 2,201 adults. Results from the full survey have a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percent.

The American College of Emergency Physicians is the national medical society representing emergency medicine. Through continuing education, research, public education and advocacy, ACEP advances emergency care on behalf of its 39,000 emergency physician members, and the more than 150 million Americans they treat on an annual basis. For more information, visit acep.org and emergencyphysicians.org.