Across the country, different aspects of life came to a halt in recent months, as cities, states, and individuals worked to stop the spread of COVID-19. In many areas, hospitals, and doctors’ offices cancelled elective surgeries and in-office appointments. Media reports describe a decline in patients showing up at emergency rooms suffering from heart attacks, strokes, and appendicitis. And according to a study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, nine high-volume catheterization labs across the country have seen a 38 percent decline in treating a particular kind of heart attack patient during the early days of COVID1; a similar reduction was also observed in Spain.
As physicians share anecdotes about their empty waiting rooms, medical doctors worry that people could be ignoring their own health concerns and isolating themselves from health care offices and clinics for fear of catching coronavirus.
“Understandably, patients may be hesitant to go to a doctor, hospital or other health care facility because they may feel that it will increase their chance of being exposed to, contracting—and potentially spreading—COVID-19,” says Dara Richardson-Heron, M.D., Pfizer’s Chief Patient Officer. “This may especially be true for patients at a higher risk of COVID-19 complications: for example, those who are older, immunocompromised, or have certain underlying health conditions like diabetes, chronic lung disease or serious heart conditions.”
However, Richardson-Heron says it’s important that people reach out to their doctor to address any health concerns. A simple phone call to a health care professional can offer guidance on what to do next. Otherwise, they could risk becoming more ill as time passes. “Delays in seeking medical care for health concerns may be detrimental to your health, as it may limit the ability for early diagnoses and treatment that can lessen the burden of disease and even save lives,” says Richardson-Heron. She adds that it’s also vital that people keep up with their regular checkups and screenings.
We asked Richardson-Heron four questions about what people with health concerns and healthcare needs not related to COVID-19 should be thinking about right now. Here’s what she said.
Individuals with chronic health conditions should reach out to their doctor’s office or a health clinic in their area to seek guidance and discuss next steps.
Depending on the condition, patients may be provided recommendations for home care, instructed to schedule an in-person appointment or arrange for a virtual visit.
It’s always best to seek guidance from a professional. While patients and health care professionals may be currently preoccupied with the global pandemic, patients should never put their health concerns on hold.
Talk to your doctor about how best to continue your treatment plan and ask if any medical appointments can be safely delayed.
Remember that every patient and every situation is unique: only you and your doctor can make the decision that’s right for you.
Can patients return to their routine visits now?
Since the start of COVID-19, the American Academy of Pediatrics reports “a significant drop in well child visits,” resulting in delays in screenings and vaccinations in children. It’s important for people to keep up with routine visits, including those well child visits, as well as annual mammograms, prostate evaluations, scheduled colonoscopies, and other health checkups. With medical offices re-opening around the country, now is the time to reach out to your healthcare professional to ask their advice on making an appointment or rescheduling any appointments that may have been cancelled because of the pandemic. Preventive health care is more important now than ever. Identifying and addressing health issues before they become serious is one of the best steps we can all take to protect our own health and the health of our families.
Telemedicine is being utilized much more frequently for a variety of health services and follow-up consultations. Telemedicine may also be utilized when it is not safe or practical for a patient to travel to a health care facility. It allows providers and patients to connect remotely, which in turn can help limit patients’ and health care providers’ exposure to COVID-19.
For example, if you suspect that a cut may be infected, or if you notice swelling or abnormal bruising on your body, telemedicine provides a way for you to discuss your symptoms and enables your provider to see and evaluate your condition virtually. Telemedicine may be effective, in some cases, for mental health counseling, evaluation of skin conditions such as for rashes, moles, insect bites, and other common health conditions.
Note that not every medical intervention can be done virtually. You should always consult with a health care provider to determine if telemedicine is the optimal way to evaluate your specific health condition.
If an in-person doctor’s office visit is required, make sure that you follow all instructions provided by the office staff regarding your visit. You may also want to call ahead to confirm that the office is open, and that the doctor or health care provider is available to see you.
As for precautions, please follow CDC guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Cover your mouth and nose with a cloth face cover when around others and put at least six-feet distance between yourself and other people whenever possible, for example in your doctor’s waiting room. Wash your hands often and avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands. If available, use disinfecting wipes on frequently touched surfaces such as handles, knobs and touch pads. And remember to cover any coughs and sneezes with a tissue, and to throw away used tissues in a lined trash can and immediately wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. These steps can help protect yourself and others from COVID-19.
1 “Reduction in ST-Segment Elevation Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory Activations in the United States during COVID-19 Pandemic,” Journal of the American College of Cardiology