Trends show patients putting off life-saving heart surgery during pandemic, or even skipping it

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Over the past year, you might have skipped a regular check-up at the doctor or the dentist.

But, what about a more serious medical procedure?

Doctors are worried about a drop in the number of cardiac surgeries during the pandemic. Dr. Tom Nguyen, chief of cardio-thoracic surgery at UCSF, has been comparing the data on adult heart surgery before and during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Before the pandemic, the U.S. was doing about 24,000 cases per month," he said. "During the first major COVID surge we saw a decrease to 12,000 cases per month. So that’s a 53 percent reduction in case volume in the U.S."

He’s especially worried about a 40 percent drop in non-elective cases, the kind of issues that would usually see patients being immediately admitted to the operating room.

It raises the question: What happened to those people?

"There’s a good chance that the patients possibly could have had a bad outcome at home," Dr. Nguyen said. "There’s a possibility that they waited to eventually come to hospital later in the disease process and had something that’s a lot more complicated and anecdotally we’re seeing that."

He told KCBS Radio’s "As Prescribed" patients are having complications that were common 40 or 50 years ago, but rare in modern times. It shows that even in a pandemic, if you’re having chest pains or shortness of breath, the safest place is always the hospital.