In many places, hospitals and health clinics are focused on testing, vaccinating, and taking care of people who may have COVID-19s. So what should you do if you have another health problem and need to see a doctor? Or what if you or a loved one has a health emergency in the midst of the outbreak?
What the Guidelines Say
The details depend on where you live, whether you or your loved one is vaccinated, how many people are sick with COVID-19 in your community and what phase of reopening or lockdown your area is in. To limit the spread of the virus, you might want to cancel any medical appointments you can safely put off. When in doubt, call first.
Official guidelines still say that doctors and clinics should prioritize urgent and emergency visits. The goal is to keep people healthy and conserve needed supplies.
Many doctors and other health care professionals now offer limited routine visits with safety precaustions. While procedures considered “elective” are being considered on a case-by-case basis.
It’s important to know that “elective” isn’t the same as “optional.” Doctors call anything that’s planned in advance an elective procedure. So think mammograms, colonoscopies, tonsillectomies, and more.
If the procedure you have scheduled really shouldn’t wait, then doctors are less likely to delay it. But keep in mind that things are changing each day. During this time, doctors in some places may even have to decide if it’s best to delay surgeries for cancer or other serious conditions. Again, this will depend on what’s happening where you are.
If you have an appointment or procedure scheduled, check with your doctor's office to see how they are handling patient safety in regard to COVID exposure.
Consider a Virtual Visit
In some cases, you may be able to see a doctor without going in. Many doctor’s offices are making telehealth — online appointments — more available. If it’s possible, your doctor may suggest a visit using the computer or phone.
Officials have new rules in place to make telehealth easier right now. For example, Medicare has expanded its coverage of telehealth for many common doctor visits.
So if you have a regular doctor visit coming up that you’d rather not cancel, ask if there’s a way to do it remotely. If something comes up, like a case of strep throat, that might be something that can be taken care of over the phone, too.
Keeping Up With Your Medications
It’s more important than ever to do what you can to stay well and avoid a health emergency. This means taking your medications. If you have questions about anything you are taking related to COVID-19, ask your doctor.
Doctors and some insurance companies have made it easier to get 90-day refills of medications to help people stay home. Check with your doctor, pharmacy, and health insurance company to see if that’s possible.
Tips to Stay Well at the Doctor
If you have a condition that requires you to go to the doctor, it’s important that you go. Doctors are doing everything they can to reduce the risk that you’ll pick up the virus there.
There are now COVID-19 vaccines available and they have been found to be highly effective in stopping the spread so you should consider getting vaccinated. In the meantime, follow these tips to lower your risk of infection and slow the spread of the virus:
- Stay at a safe distance (at least 6 feet) from others.
- Wear a face mask
- Wash your hands with soap and water often for at least 20 seconds.
- Use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol when you can’t wash your hands.
- Don’t touch your face.
- Avoid touching surfaces or shared items.
- Use disinfectant wipes to clean surfaces you do need to touch.
What to Do in a Health Emergency
Sometimes health emergencies happen. If it does, of course you will need to get care. Some examples that should send you to the ER include:
- Chest pains
- Trouble breathing
- Slurred speech
- Eye injury
- Severe cuts
Hospitals have plans in place to keep people who may have COVID-19 away from people with other health problems. Most hospitals are still limiting visitors due to COVID-19. If you or a loved one has to go to the ER or hospital, you’ll need to prepare yourself for this. Call ahead and find out if visitors are allowed and how many can come at one time. The answer may be one, or none — but check before you go.
If a health condition makes a hospital visit more likely for you, talk to your doctor in advance so you’ll know what to do if that happens. Since things are changing all the time during the pandemic, it’s a good idea to keep up with advice from officials where you are as well.
- CDC: “Coronavirus Disease 2019: Resources for Clinics and Healthcare Facilities,” “Coronavirus Disease 2019: Interim Guidance for Healthcare Facilities: Preparing for Community Transmission of COVID-19 in the United States.” “Use of Cloth Face Coverings to Help Slow the Spread of COVID-19.”
- Kids Health: “What is elective surgery?”
- Dukehealth.org: “COVID-19 Update,” “Visitor Restrictions in Place.”
- American College of Surgeons: “COVID-19 Guidelines for Triage of Cardiac Surgery Patients.”
- Medscape: “Should Docs Stop Providing Routine Care in the Era of COVID-19?”
- AMA: “Helping private practices navigate non-essential care during COVID-19.”
- Medicare.gov: “Medicare & Coronavirus.”
- American Heart Association: “As COVID-19 cases increase, preventing a second heart attack or stroke is vital.”
- Mayo Clinic: “Coronavirus Disease 2019.”
- Scripps: “Should You Go to the Emergency Room or Urgent Care?”