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Colorado Doctors Seeing Jump In People Avoiding Hospital For Medical Care

DENVER (CBS4) - While the number of patients admitted to hospitals for COVID-19 appears to be leveling off across the state, emergency room physicians are noticing a concerning trend. People are putting off other emergency care over fears of coronavirus.

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"People are terrified. I just had a friend (who) sat outside of an ER with a kidney stone for a couple of hours the other day sort of terrified to go inside. She thought she was going to get COVID-19," said Dr. Dylan Luyten, Director of Emergency Services at Swedish Medical Center.

Inside of Luyten's emergency room, he has seen extreme cases of individuals delaying medical care.

For instance, while the number of strokes aren't more than usual, he says the length of time people have been waiting to seek treatment is sometimes too long.

"The percentage of those patients who are presenting late, outside of the time window for receiving aggressive treatment is much higher, unfortunately. Ditto with heart attacks and ditto with simple things like appendicitis."

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CBS4's Jamie Leary gets her temperature taken. (credit: CBS)

He says he has seen appendicitis patients who have waited until they have a ruptured appendix before seeking treatment.

"This is just completely a direct effect of avoiding emergency care."

On Wednesday there was a clear indication this was still a problem. The waiting room inside the emergency department was completely empty.

"We're much quieter than we'd normally be at this time of day, at this time of year. It's quiet eerie actually," he said.

Luyten says right now, hospitals are safer than the grocery stores and he wants people to know that staff at Swedish Medical Center have the supplies and the capacity to care for emergencies other than COVID-19.

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On Wednesday, Centura Health issued a news release with a similar message:

"I am worried about our communities. COVID-19 is, of course, at the front of everyone's mind as it should be. However, the number of calls and visits we are seeing across our communities are alarmingly low," explains Dr. Judd Dawson, Centura Health Physician Group. "I think about the patients with diabetes, heart failure, chest pain. leg swelling and other problems that can cause significant problems. My concern is that individuals are ignoring symptoms because they do not feel anything can be done in the present pandemic situation."

RELATED: Latest Updates On The Coronavirus Outbreak In Colorado

UCHealth urged the same in a statement to CBS4 Wednesday:

"We have seen patients who have delayed care related to COVID-19. It could be because of fear of catching the disease right now. I would reassure Coloradans that if they have an emergent or urgent issue, it is safe to seek care. We have every precaution in place and are ready. If they aren't sure, we have virtual health services available for urgent care (24/7), primary care and dozens of specialty care clinics," said Dr. Richard Zane, chief innovation officer for UCHealth and chair of emergency medicine for the University of Colorado School of Medicine.

Luyten says it's not just a trend for emergency rooms at HealthOne or Centura Health. Fears around seeking treatment for issues outside of COVID-19 is a problem statewide.

"We hope to alleviate that fear, you know, the ERs are here for you. We have plenty of capacity, you're not going to get sick because you came to the ER and don't put off being evaluated for potential emergency conditions," he said.

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