We are in the midst of a worldwide health emergency with COVID-19, but that doesn’t mean you can or should put your health on hold. It’s more important than ever to take care of ourselves, especially if you have an ongoing health concern, such as diabetes or high blood pressure. What should you do if you have a health concern that’s not related to the Coronavirus? Or what if you or a child is due for a preventive service, such as a vaccine or cancer screening?
The first and most important step is to call your primary care provider’s office. Before making an appointment or deciding yourself to forgo treatment, ask what options they offer for virtual care – especially if you have any chronic health conditions that increase your risk of serious illness from COVID-19.
Some questions to ask:
- Can your concerns be addressed with a phone call?
- Can you have a video appointment instead of coming in?
- Can you safely postpone treatment?
- What are your other options?
A phone call with a doctor, physician assistant, nurse practitioner, or other provider, will help you make an informed decision about how to proceed. You may be able to stay at home and talk with your provider virtually, but if you need to go into the office, there are precautions you can take to keep yourself safe.
A virtual visit is a good option if you don’t need an in-person examination. In many cases, both primary care and specialist appointments can be done through a video visit. All you need is a connection to the internet and your doctor can invite you to a secure virtual appointment that you can take on your smartphone, tablet, or computer.
During a telehealth or telephone visit, your provider will ask about your condition, conduct a visual examination, provide a diagnosis, and send prescriptions to your pharmacy, if needed. You may also get recommendations for additional care or a follow-up visit.
While it is safest to maintain your distance from health care facilities, an in-person appointment may be necessary. Here are a few precautions you can take to stay safe at the doctor’s office.
- Call ahead. Many providers’ offices have implemented new policies and procedures for delivering care to ensure your safety, and the safety of their staff - such as limiting the number of visitors, screening for fever, and requiring face coverings of some kind. Call and find out what you need to do, before you show up for your appointment!
- Wear a cloth face covering. Put your mask on when you leave the house and keep it on the entire time you are at the doctor’s office and be very careful not to touch your face. Visit the CDC website for more information on safely using a cloth face covering, including how to make your own.
- Keep your distance. Sit or stand in the waiting room as far away from others as possible and avoid touching anything in public areas.
- Wash your hands: Wash your hands before you set off for your appointment and use hand sanitizer as soon as you arrive. After your appointment on your way out, use hand sanitizer again. And when you return home, wash your hands with soap and hot water. It may seem excessive, but frequent hand washing is the best defense against COVID-19.
Do not ignore urgent medical issues. If you are not sure it is a true emergency, call your doctor’s office first to see if a same-day visit is available. Many walk-in clinics are still open for in-person and video visits if you can’t get in to see your primary care provider. But if it is a true emergency, the ER is the place to go – some medical conditions require immediate attention. All facilities are taking great care to provide safe access for care of non-COVID conditions, such as offering separate entrances and not allowing staff to cross over between COVID and non-COVID care environments.
Most importantly, take care of yourself during this time. Your physical and emotional health are too important to ignore!