By Stephanie Stahl

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Hospital cases for traditional medical problems, like heart attacks, are down significantly across the Philadelphia region. Doctors are worried fear of COVID-19 is stopping patients from getting the treatment they need.

The drop in emergency cases is partially because people are home and not out as much, so there are fewer accidents.

But doctors say a byproduct of COVID-19 fear is patients not getting treatment for other conditions and they could end up even sicker.

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Fear of COVID-19 is scaring away traditional patients. Doctors say many people with things like heart attacks, strokes and infections are not seeking care in hospitals.

“We’re seeing a reduction overall,” Main Line Health cardiologist Dr. William Gray said.

While hospitals are busy with COVID-19 patients, admissions for other conditions are down.

People are fearful of being exposed to the virus in the hospital.

“It’s important to understand just because there’s a pandemic doesn’t mean that the regular health care that we deliver stops,” Dr. Gray said.

Ambulance calls are also down. People are either going to urgent care or toughing it out at home.

But delays in treatment, especially for a heart attack or stroke, can be dangerous, even deadly.

“I’ve seen patients already who have survived heart attacks but have had complications because of it, and they had the heart attacks at home and had they come in they wouldn’t have had those complications,” said Dr. Gray.

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Cardiologists have seen a “sudden drop” in heart attack patients in recent weeks, which has prompted the heart association to warn people not to wait for treatment.

“There are a myriad of other things like infections, like pneumonia for instance, that don’t have anything to do with COVID but can still be very much life-threatening. These things need to be attended to and I think the major message is that patients should not be afraid to come to the hospital,” Dr. Gray said.

To protect patients, hospitals have created separate areas for COVID-19 cases and have extensive measures to keep the virus from spreading.

(credit: CBS3)

“The chances of getting COVID in the hospital are very low,” said Dr. Gray.

Doctors say people with pre-existing conditions like heart disease, diabetes and cancer need to get care if they develop unusual symptoms.

Also, remember many doctors and hospitals have tele-health visits so patients can check in from home.

Stephanie Stahl