Doctors are fighting not only to save lives from COVID-19, but also to protect patients’ brains.
Although COVID-19 is best known for damaging the lungs, it also increases the risk of life-threatening brain injuries — from mental confusion to hallucinations, seizures, coma, stroke and paralysis. The virus may invade the brain, as well as starve the organ of oxygen by damaging the lungs. To fight the infection, the immune system sometimes overreacts, battering the brain and other organs it normally protects.
Yet the pandemic has severely limited the ability of doctors and nurses to prevent and treat neurological complications. The severity of the disease and the heightened risk of infection have forced medical teams to abandon many of the practices that help them protect patients from delirium, a common side effect of mechanical ventilators
The patient described it as the worst headache of her life. She didn’t go to the hospital, though. Instead, the Washington state resident waited almost a week.
When Dr. Abhineet Chowdhary finally saw her, he discovered she had a brain bleed that had gone untreated.
The neurosurgeon did his best, but it was too late.
“As a result, she had multiple other strokes and ended up passing away,” said Chowdhary, director of the Overlake Neuroscience Institute in Bellevue, Washington. “This is something that most of the time we’re able to prevent.”
Chowdhary said the patient, a stroke survivor in her mid-50s, had told him she was frightened of the hospital.
She was afraid of the coronavirus.
The fallout from such fear has concerned U.S. doctors for weeks while they have tracked a worrying trend: As the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, the number of patients showing up at hospitals with serious
Karen Taylor had been coughing for weeks when she decided to see a doctor in early April. COVID-19 cases had just exceeded 5,000 in Texas, where she lives.
Cigna, her health insurer, said it would waive out-of-pocket costs for “telehealth” patients seeking coronavirus screening through video conferences. So Taylor, a sales manager, talked with her physician on an internet video call.
The doctor’s office charged her $70. She protested. But “they said, ‘No, it goes toward your deductible and you’ve got to pay the whole $70,’” she said.
Policymakers and insurers across the country say they are eliminating copayments, deductibles and other barriers to telemedicine for patients confined at home who need a doctor for any reason.
“We are encouraging people to use telemedicine,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said last month after ordering insurers to eliminate copays, typically collected at the time of a doctor visit, for telehealth visits.