Knocking down fears, myths and misinformation about calling 911 in the pandemic

Although hospitals are seeing fewer heart attack and stroke patients, that doesn’t mean those events are on the decline.

Recent statistics suggest people aren’t calling 911, or they are delaying or avoiding critical care.

But that’s dangerous — and possibly deadly. Heart disease and stroke are still the world’s leading causes of death. If you’re hesitant to seek care in an emergency, let’s see if we can put some of your doubts to rest.

DOUBT: I’m not sure this is a heart attack or stroke. It’s probably nothing. I’ll be fine after I take a nap.
RESPONSE: Let’s be blunt: You can die from doubt.

Every minute counts in an emergency. Symptoms such as chest pain; pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, or jaw; and shortness of breath are still symptoms of heart attack. Sudden face drooping, weakness in an arm or leg, or speech difficulty are stroke symptoms. Any of these symptoms required emergency care in the past. They still require emergency care now.

DOUBT: I don’t want to be a bother to busy Emergency Medical Services/Emergency Department personnel.
RESPONSE: These professional train for years to help people with heart attacks, strokes and other medical emergencies. They’re committed to saving lives. But in some areas, calls to 911 and visits to EDs are at historic lows during COVID-19.

You need to be seen in an emergency department that’s qualified and capable of taking care of a cardiac or stroke emergency and the people who work there need to see you. That’s true any day, and it’s true during COVID-19.

FEAR: I’m afraid of getting the coronavirus. I’ll be safer at home.
RESPONSE: Calling 911 at the first sign of a heart attack or stroke could save your life, or a loved one’s. From dispatchers to first responders, the emergency response system is prepared to help you safely and quickly, even during a pandemic.

First responders are trained to avoid spreading germs. Hospitals are following protocols to sanitize, socially distance and keep infected people away from others. Many now have separate emergency rooms, operating rooms, cardiac catherization rooms and ICUs to separate COVID-19 patients.

FEAR: I’m afraid of being alone at the hospital during the COVID-19 pandemic.
RESPONSE: Of course, it’s difficult to be alone in the hospital. There’s no getting around that. But it’s better to be alone for a week or two than to leave your family alone forever. 

Heart attacks and strokes can be deadly or lead to serious disability. The sooner you get help, the better — and the more likely you’ll be alive to see your loved ones again.

FEAR:
I’m afraid I can’t afford an ambulance or a hospital visit. My insurance might not cover it.
RESPONSE: You can’t afford NOT to call 911. A heart attack or stroke can cause death or lead to permanent disability if not treated quickly.

The Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act is a federal law that requires anyone being treated in a hospital emergency department with an emergency condition to be stabilized and treated, regardless of their insurance status or ability to pay.

The federal Affordable Care Act generally requires most health plans to cover emergency services. Any health plan providing benefits for emergency services must cover them regardless of whether the health care provider or hospital is an in-network provider. In addition, the plan can’t impose a copayment or coinsurance on out-of-network emergency services that’s greater than the in-network cost.   

FEAR: If I call 911, the police might show up along with the ambulance.
RESPONSE: During the pandemic, many municipalities aren’t dispatching law enforcement to a scene, to reduce their risk of exposure to the coronavirus. If you’re concerned about calling 911 as a bystander, you can stay anonymous. You don’t have to provide your name, telephone number or other identifying information.

MYTH: I can get to the hospital and get treated more quickly if I drive myself.
REALITY: Heart attack and stroke treatment begins in the ambulance. Research shows calling 911 helps patients get treated more quickly. Calling 911 also helps get you to the right hospital that can best treat your condition.

MYTH: I can’t call 911 because I don’t speak English.
REALITY:
Dial 911 and simply say: “Stroke. Spanish interpreter” or “Heart Attack. Spanish interpreter.” Most EMS dispatch centers use a language line that helps them respond to calls in Spanish and other languages.

Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is SAFE for EVERYONE to call 911. It is SAFE for ANYONE to go to the hospital.