Fear of Covid-19 keeping other patients away, say doctors

Strict protocols put in place at hospitals have reduced the likelihood of Covid-19 cross-infections, say doctors.

PETALING JAYA: Fear of contracting Covid-19 at clinics and hospitals has kept away some patients who have illnesses such as heart disease, according to several doctors.

Patients with diseases such as cancer, diabetes and hypertension are known to be at increased risk of dying if they also contract Covid-19. Such thoughts have raised the fear level in some patients.

A consultant cardiologist, Dr Yap Swee Hien, said a patient with a severely narrowed artery had refused to come in for an angiogram because “he was worried about getting infected with Covid-19”.

Yap said there were no infections at his hospital, but “sometimes these patients don’t realise they are more likely to die of a heart attack rather than Covid-19”.

Another cardiologist, Dr Wong Teck Wee, said some patients had avoided seeking diagnosis despite early signs of a potentially dangerous health event.

Wong said that one patient who wanted to be screened for heart disease became so anxious about contracting Covid-19 that he could not sleep for two days.

“He had some symptoms (of heart disease) but did not seek proper attention,” said Wong, who is also the president of the Malaysian Healthy Aging Society. “Patients must still come in to get checked because Covid-19 is not going to end any time soon,” added Wong, who treated SARS patients while working in Singapore in 2003.

The Association of Private Hospitals Malaysia (APHM) confirmed that some patients who have suffered heart attacks and stroke have stayed away from hospitals recently because of Covid-19.

APHM president Dr Kuljit Singh pointed out that the reduction of hospital visits might mean that many of these patients may succumb at home or arrive at hospitals when in a state of emergency, often in cases which are “not salvageable.”

“We are worried that a lot of Malaysian patients are neglecting their health and not coming to hospitals because they fear Covid-19, but they will end up in bigger trouble with worse health emergencies,” Kuljit said. “Talk to other doctors and GPs… They’ll tell you the same thing.”

Kuljit said Malaysians should maintain their medical appointments as the virus would only be eradicated when a treatment or vaccine is available, a process which might take years.

Although there have been reports of Covid-19 cross-infections within hospitals, Kuljit said such cases had taken place at the early stage of the pandemic.

The strict protocols and isolation guidelines put in place has helped to curb the spread of the disease, making the risk of cross infection unlikely, he said.

“We are now pretty advanced in our management of Covid-19 and all the hospitals’ guidelines are very stringent,” said Kuljit. “In fact, it’s safer to be inside hospitals than being outside in communities which have not been tested.”

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