In-person healthcare visits can be done safely despite coronavirus risk, small JAMA study suggests

By | August 17, 2020

Dive Brief:

  • A small study of obstetrical patients at four hospitals in Boston found no meaningful association between the number of in-person visits and the rate of novel coronavirus infection.
  • The study looked at 111 patients with an average of three in-person visits between April 19 and June 27, when all obstetrical patients were tested at the time of admission. In that time period, Massachusetts had the third-highest infection rate in the country, “and the Boston area was particularly affected,” according to the research published in JAMA on Friday.
  • The findings “suggest in-person health care visits were not likely to be an important risk factor for infection and that necessary, in-person care can be safely performed,” the authors wrote.

Dive Insight:

Providers have been heavily campaigning for patients to return to medical offices when they need care. Although the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise across the country, doctors say they have measures in place to limit risk of infection and that deferring medical care can be dangerous.

The findings from JAMA may ease fears for pregnant women, who could be at an increased risk of infection from the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

The CDC also found that pregnant women “were significantly more likely to be hospitalized, admitted to the intensive care unit, and receive mechanical ventilation than nonpregnant women; however, pregnant women were not at greater risk for death from COVID-19.”

Last month, about a dozen organizations, including Providence, Baylor Scott & White and Humana, launched an ad campaign urging patients not to put off care. It encouraged people to continue social distancing but not “medical distancing.”

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The American Hospital Association has also had its own advertisements that emphasize safety precautions being taken to reduce spread of the novel coronavirus.

Medical offices heavily restricted visits in late March and April as stay-at-home orders were issued throughout the U.S. But even as those requirements have eased, people are still wary of returning to a healthcare setting, surveys show. Even visits to emergency departments have been lower than average.

Visits have begun to rebound since the lowest rates, but are still below pre-pandemic levels, according to a recent report from the Commonwealth Fund.

The JAMA study could help relax some of those concerns, although the authors note more research is needed “to determine whether these findings extend to other populations and health care settings.”

Providers are particularly worried that people who avoid treatment could develop complications that are more difficult and costly to treat. Clinicians are also afraid that vaccination rates could be lower, a particular problem as flu season approaches.

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