At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent shelter-in-place orders, many people were understandably wary of leaving their homes, even to seek needed medical care.
However, delaying care — whether it’s going in for regular checkups, getting preventive tests and screenings, or taking steps to manage a long-term or chronic condition — can have serious health consequences. And ignoring symptoms of more serious medical issues, such as signs of a heart attack or stroke, can be life-threatening or can lead to serious health complications.
In the early months of the pandemic (between March and May 2020), for example, fewer patients were getting care for strokes, according to a study published by the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research in Northern California in August 2020. A similar trend was found for patients experiencing heart attack symptoms during the spring 2020 COVID-19 surge.
In response, Kaiser Permanente redoubled its efforts, sending emails and letters directly to members and putting messages on kp.org to encourage patients to immediately call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room if they have stroke symptoms.
Kaiser Permanente wasn’t the only organization spreading this message. Health care organizations such as the American Heart Association started public health campaigns encouraging patients to not delay care for serious issues. Media coverage warned of the dangers of not getting needed care.
These collective efforts have paid off, a follow-up study, released in June 2021, shows.
“This study suggests that we were successful in our efforts to reassure patients that it was important to leave their homes and seek emergency care and that they could do so safely,” said the study’s lead author Matthew D. Solomon, MD, PhD, a cardiologist for The Permanente Medical Group and a physician researcher with the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research in Northern California.
Throughout the pandemic, Kaiser Permanente has been dedicated to keeping our facilities open and accessible so that our doctors and care teams can safely provide safe, high-quality care to our members. To prevent the spread of COVID-19, we expanded our rigorous safety practices in alignment with public health guidelines. These practices include:
We also worked to help our members understand when telehealth might be an appropriate option. It’s important to come into our facilities when experiencing serious symptoms, such as those associated with a heart attack or stroke, but for nonemergency needs, telehealth allows members to seek care from the comfort and safety of their own homes.
During the pandemic, many members embraced telehealth for the first time: In 2020, Kaiser Permanente members took part in 28 times more video visits than in all of 2019.
“Kaiser Permanente is uniquely positioned to seamlessly blend virtual and in-person care to support total health,” said Arthur M. Southam, MD, executive vice president of health plan operations. “While virtual care will continue to be a safe, high-quality choice for our members post-pandemic, we want to remind them that they have options in how to seek care. With Kaiser Permanente, these options ensure they receive the right care, at the right time, in the right place.”