Missed appointments, delayed care concern Ottawa hospitals

Some Ottawa health-care providers are warning patients that missing appointments and delaying medical care could pose a greater risk to their health than the possibility of contracting COVID-19 at their facilities.

CHEO, Ottawa Hospital urge patients to seek care despite COVID-19 fears

A file photo of a patient getting care. The Ottawa Hospital and CHEO are urging patients to continue going to appointments, even preventative care procedures, to make sure nothing is missed. (Jean-Paul Pelissier/Reuters)

Some Ottawa health-care providers are warning patients that missing appointments and delaying medical care could pose a greater risk to their health than the possibility of contracting COVID-19 at their facilities.

"Fewer people are going to their medical appointments or seeking medical help," said Dr. Vera Etches, Ottawa's medical officer of health during an Ottawa Public Health update this week.

She said infection control measures should allay fears about contracting the illness, and warned "waiting too long to get medical help can have serious consequences."

Etches raised the issue on behalf of health-care providers across the city who were concerned that it could be a big problem for patients down the road, as their care needs may become more serious.

CHEO working group

CHEO has pulled together a working group to understand what's behind the trend observed by staff arranging appointments at some 70 clinics run by the hospital.   

Don't underestimate the risk of delay.- Tammy DeGiovanni, Dir Abulatory Care, CHEO

Tammy DeGiovanni, director of ambulatory care at CHEO, said families who decide to put off referrals from family doctors to see specialists, for instance, may be unwittingly delaying an opportunity for early intervention for a serious illness.

Tammy DeGiovanni, director of ambulatory care at CHEO, says the children's hospital has created a working group to understand the reasons behind the trend of missed and cancelled appointments. (Supplied by CHEO)

"Don't underestimate the risk of delay," said DeGiovanni, "either getting a diagnosis or getting a care plan and moving things forward can be critical, particularly with kids."

The Ottawa Hospital ER at 80% 

The Ottawa Hospital (TOH) is also seeing a similar trend with cancelled or delayed appointments. 

TOH chief of staff Dr. Virginia Roth said the emergency room is at 80 per cent capacity, less compared to the pre-pandemic period. 

"We have had some patients telling us they're a bit nervous coming to the hospital," said Roth, noting some people may be taking the stay-at-home order to heart.

But she wants patients to know that even preventative care appointments like a breast screening test, should be considered an essential reason for leaving home.

Risk of delayed care for COVID-19 patients

"If you delay that, there is the possibility that a diagnosis or treatment can be delayed," she said. "It is safe to come here and if you need care, please access it."

The Ottawa Hospital chief of staff Dr. Virginia Roth said the emergency room isat 80 per cent capacity, compared to the higher pre-pandemic period. (provided by Ottawa Hospital)

TOH is also worried about COVID-19-related patients, particularly seniors, waiting too long to seek help and arriving at hospital in more acute phases of the illness.

"You know you're told to stay home if you're COVID-positive, but if your symptoms are worsening, it's much better to seek care and get assessed and evaluated rather than wait at home for things to get worse," she said, flagging that the disease can progress rapidly, particularly among older adults. 

Improving virtual options

Roth said TOH has developed with other hospitals in the region a patient-family advisory committee to learn more about how to better serve the public during the pandemic. As a result they've taken some measures they hope will allay patient concerns, including pre-testing patients coming in for procedures, as well as offering more virtual care options.

Fewer Ottawa residents making medical appointments due to fear of COVID-19, OPH says

2 years ago
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Dr. Vera Etches, Ottawa’s medical officer of health, encouraged residents to seek medical treatment when needed, saying any delay could have serious health consequences.

CHEO has also increased virtual care options after consulting its own family advisory committee. 

DeGiovanni says offering more options for parents addresses some of the feedback from that committee, which has given a much fuller picture of family dynamics during the pandemic affecting access to care.

She said while fear of getting COVID-19 is a big one, there are also more complex problems facing parents, particularly under stay-at-home orders, where their availability to accommodate in-person appointments becomes more limited. 

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