Covid fear: Patients avoid hospitals; ailments worsen

Ailments worsen as patients keep away from hospitals over Covid-19 fear

Doctors in Bengaluru said there is still a widespread fear among people about going to hospitals due to Covid.

The months-long assault by the pandemic kept many patients with non-Covid ailments away from hospitals out of fear of contracting the virus. The cost of that move is now becoming apparent as the virus retreats and a few patients make their way to the deserted corridors of hospitals in the city.

Take the case of 60-year-old Rajesh (name changed), a resident of Hebbal, who had stage 1 prostate cancer at the start of the outbreak in March.

Rajesh shunned hospitals due to the raging pandemic. It didn’t help that there was a general unavailability of non-Covid services. Now, months later, his cancer has reached an advanced stage.

Senior doctors at many hospitals said arrivals have thinned, but those turning up are people with serious health problems, long-neglected or suppressed due to the pandemic.

Dr Prasanna H M of Pristine Hospital, who took over as the president of the Private Hospitals and Nursing Homes Association (PHANA) on November 22, said most private hospitals have either restarted non-Covid services or are moving to restart regular services but the demand has been abysmal.

“Private hospitals are reporting only 30% demand for healthcare related ailments as compared to pre-pandemic figures,” he said, adding this did not mean people have suddenly become healthy. 

Prasanna said there is “still widespread fear of Covid-19 among people to the point that they are avoiding hospitals”.

“They choose to turn up if there is an emergency,” he said.

A significant chunk of the emergency cases comprises people whose pre-existing medical conditions have turned serious due to postponed health check-ups.

The example of the prostate cancer patient Rajesh is a case in point. 

Diagnosed with stage 1 prostate cancer in February, Rajesh’s medical treatments were cut short by the nationwide lockdown at the end of March.

“In the months that passed, some non-Covid services resumed, but the patient did not return for treatment for nearly 6 months because of fear of Covid-19,” said his physician Dr Suri Raju V, Chief Urologist of Regal Hospital in Chokkanahalli.

“When he finally turned up this week, we found his illness had advanced to stage 3,” Dr Raju said, clarifying that Rajesh’s case is not isolated. “This is just one case in many,” he added.

Low demand

For some hospital administrators, the low demand for services has come as a surprise.

Dr Yateesh Govindaiah, Assistant Head of Medical Services for Apollo Hospitals in Karnataka, confirmed that the public was equating hospitals to infection by Covid-19.

“We need to restore the public’s confidence that hospital visits are safe. It is challenging. The entire medical ecosystem has been disturbed,” he said.

Not surprisingly, many smaller private hospitals are in financial distress. Dr Prasanna said PHANA is considering urgent financial help for smaller hospitals.

“We are trying to tap into the MSME stimulus package,” he said.