With cases of the novel coronavirus now confirmed in all 50 states, people across the country (and globe, for that matter) are ramping up their social-distancing efforts and staying home as much as possible.
What’s not so clear, though, is whether social distancing extends to regular doctor visits. Should you forego all appointments until the new coronavirus pandemic begins to quiet down?
For the sake of your health (and that of those around you), doctors break down which visits to cancel—and which to keep on your calendar—in the current COVID-19 climate.
What To Do About Annual Physicals, Dentist Visits, And Other Non-Urgent Appointments
Though you may want to be proactive about your health right now, it’s probably best to avoid doctor offices for the time being.
“At this time, it is a good idea for people that are well to cancel routine, non-urgent appointments,” says Dr. Neha Pathak, MD, medical editor at WebMD. This not only helps minimize your risk of coronavirus exposure, but it also helps lower your odds of spreading it should you unknowingly be carrying the virus.
- Annual check-ups: If you’re well, cancel physicals, annuals, and other well visits.
- Dentist appointments: Avoid routine cleanings, exams, and fillings.
- Gyno visits: Postpone regular check-ups unless you’re pregnant—in which case you should call your doctor to formulate a plan for your visits and talk through any potential changes to your labor and delivery plans.
- Non-urgent procedures: Reschedule elective and cosmetic surgeries and regular screenings (like colonoscopies).
In addition to protecting the health of your community, limiting non-urgent care right now also helps conserve providers’ protective equipment, like face masks, gloves, and gowns as much as possible, says Dr. Pathak.
Of course, if you need immediate attention (think: infections, broken teeth, or other serious medical symptoms), most practices are keeping emergency visits available.
Otherwise, see if you can check in with healthcare providers over the phone or through video chat, Dr. Pathak suggests.
What People With Serious Health Conditions Should Do About Their Appointments
Though avoiding doctor offices is best right now, experts urge those monitoring chronic health conditions not to miss visits.
For those with cancer, many doctors are evaluating the need for in-person check-ups on a case-by-case basis, depending on the patient’s individual risk, explains Dr. Steven Pergam, MD, medical director of infection prevention at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.
“We made difficult decisions to reschedule non-essential patient visits, such as cancer screenings, survivorship, and some routine follow-up appointments,” Dr. Pergam says, noting that his practice is being especially cautious because Seattle is one of the hotspotsof the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S.
Since anyone who is currently undergoing cancer treatment (including chemotherapy, radiation, or surgery) or who has other health issues (especially immune issues) has a greater risk for COVID-19-related complications, these people should touch base with their healthcare providers to make an individualized plan for continuing treatment before canceling any appointments, says Dr. Pergam.
What To Do About Kids’ Well Visits
Pediatricians’ offices are likely taking the same precautions as other medical practices, butmake sure to call the office before writing it off or cancelling any well visits.
“Some visits may be critical for protective vaccines,” Dr. Pergam says. Plus, kids with chronic conditions may still need to see their providers.
Either way, check in with the provider first. At the very least, they’ll help you reschedule your child’s appointment.
In the event that your child is sick with any kind of illness, call ahead to prepare the office, Dr. Pergam recommends.
And if your child does need to visit a clinic or office, only one healthy parent should go with them to limit exposure, he adds.
What To Do If You Start To Feel Sick
If you begin to feel under-the-weather, give your doctor a call. (Be patient; phone lines will likely be busy.) Based on your health and symptoms, your provider will help you determine whether to come in or not. Many healthcare providers are offered more virtual visits right now to minimize risk.
If you do start to develop symptoms of COVID-19, like fever, dry cough, or shortness of breath, call your doctor immediately, but do not just show up at their office, an urgent care center, or emergency room. Since COVID-19 symptoms are often similar to those of the common cold (or even allergies), your doc will want to learn as much as possible in advance in order to determine how to best handle your case, according to the CDC. If they decide your symptoms sound like you might have COVID-19, they’ll need to take various precautions to have you into the office safely and potentially test you for the novel coronavirus while minimizing your risk of infecting others.
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