COVID-19 fears may be keeping patients out of emergency room

Foot traffic through the front door of Sarasota's Doctors Hospital isn't what it used to be. 

"We have seen a reduction in patients," said Dr. Frank Biondolillo. 

Dr. Biondolillo, medical director for the hospital's emergency department, believes fear is keeping patients from coming to the E.R., ignoring symptoms of a heart attack, stroke, or other serious medical emergencies. 

"We are concerned that people are staying home and they are dying or they are having ramifications of their medical condition because they are not seeking medical attention soon enough," he said. 

Dr. Biondolillo said the coronavirus pandemic created a perception that emergency rooms were overrun with COVID-19 patients. 

"I think they were fearful -- 'I am going to get this,'" said Biondolillo. 

That perception had unintended side effects. Patients who stayed away for too long are ending up in worse condition than they should be. 

"They are now more critical, in fact. They are going to the ICU. Had we been able to intervene sooner, they would have a better potential for a better outcome," he explained. 

COVID-19 has changed hospital emergency rooms across the country. When you walk through the doors, you are immediately screened, social distancing is in place, and staff members are all wearing PPE. 

"We are safe, we are doing what we can to protect patients," said Biondolillo. 

Hospital staff said each minute lost in a medical emergency could be the difference between life and death. 

"The results could be devastating and costly to their life," Biondolillo added.