BACKGROUND: The impact of a pandemic on unplanned hospital attendance has not been extensively examined. The aim of this study is to report the nationwide consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic on unplanned hospital attendances in Denmark for 7 weeks after a 'shelter at home' order was issued.
METHODS: We merged data from national registries (Civil Registration System and Patient Registry) to conduct a study of unplanned (excluding outpatient visits and elective surgery) hospital-based healthcare and mortality of all Danes. Using data for 7 weeks after the 'shelter at home' order, the incidence rate of unplanned hospital attendances per week in 2020 was compared with corresponding weeks in 2017-2019. The main outcome was hospital attendances per week as incidence rate ratios. Secondary outcomes were general population mortality and risk of death in-hospital, reported as weekly mortality rate ratios (MRRs).
RESULTS: From 2 438 286 attendances in the study period, overall unplanned attendances decreased by up to 21%; attendances excluding COVID-19 were reduced by 31%; non-psychiatric by 31% and psychiatric by 30%. Out of the five most common diagnoses expected to remain stable, only schizophrenia and myocardial infarction remained stable, while chronic obstructive pulmonary disease exacerbation, hip fracture and urinary tract infection fell significantly. The nationwide general population MRR rose in six of the recorded weeks, while MRR excluding patients who were COVID-19 positive only increased in two.
CONCLUSION: The COVID-19 pandemic and a governmental national 'shelter at home' order was associated with a marked reduction in unplanned hospital attendances with an increase in MRR for the general population in two of 7 weeks, despite exclusion of patients with COVID-19. The findings should be taken into consideration when planning for public information campaigns.