Let’s face it: even before the current pandemic, many of us had apprehension about going to the doctor for check-ups and routine care. As a practicing internist with many years of experience helping people live healthier lives, I’ve certainly seen my share of patients who are nervous going to the doctor.
Now, with health authorities and physicians asking people to socially distance and avoid crowded public spaces, the thought of going to a doctor’s office and sitting in the waiting room brings an added dimension of anxiety. That’s why physicians, like myself, have adapted new technology to provide care and make in-person visits safe.
The fact is routine care shouldn’t be put on the backburner. It’s vitally important for people, especially those with chronic conditions, to stay on top of their health. A recent survey of primary care physicians revealed a troubling statistic: the majority of physicians surveyed believe that delayed care due to COVID-19 could result in serious and sometimes fatal outcomes.
This is especially true for the six out of ten adults with chronic conditions. These patients face serious risks if their conditions aren’t managed appropriately. For example, diabetes affects nearly 34 million people in the U.S. and diabetic patients can take preventive measures to avoid severe complications such as nerve damage, heart disease and kidney disease. Simply keeping blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels in check, and having regular checkups with a doctor, can help reduce their risk.
There’s also growing concern for children. The World Health Organization says that over 80 million children under one year old are at increased risk of diseases such as polio, measles, and diphtheria due to COVID-19 delays of vaccinations. An Optum study also examined data from providers and health systems looking at over 117,000 children who received the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine in the first four months of both 2019 and 2020. It found a 43 percent drop this year. We can’t overstate the importance of parents keeping on top of their children’s vaccine schedules to help keep them protected against preventable diseases.
So, how do we stay on top of our health while keeping safe from COVID-19? The most important thing you can do is call your doctor and ask for guidance. Your doctor may suggest a remote visit. Many have rolled out private, secure video chat and phone visit technology within the last few months. While a physician can’t draw blood or listen to your heart and lungs remotely, sometimes they can diagnose a condition based solely on your description of symptoms. They can also help determine whether you should come in for an in-person visit or if your symptoms suggest you should be seen in an urgent care or emergency room. For those at higher risk during COVID-19, being able to see your primary care doctor from the comfort and safety of your own home can be extraordinarily helpful.
When you do need to go to the office, many doctors have put effective new safeguards and procedures in place for in-person visits. These include limiting the number of people in the clinic, screening visitors for symptoms and encouraging hand hygiene and the use of masks, among other steps. Patients should take comfort in knowing their doctors and clinical staff are taking the necessary steps to avoid spreading the virus.
We’re all feeling the fear and anxiety caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, but that shouldn’t cause us to put something as important as our own health on the backburner. The consequences are too severe. Physicians, like myself, want to remind our patients that we are here to be your partner in maintaining good health. So take care of yourself and give us a call.
Dr. Donald Rebhun serves as the Regional Medical Director for Optum in California.