Don’t Let The Coronavirus Keep You From Getting The Care You Need

As part of Northwell Health Physician Partners, we at Westchester Health would like to share the following article from Northwell Health concerning the COVID-19 outbreak, written by Northwell cardiologist Jeffrey Kuvin, MD and Northwell internal medicine specialist Nancy LaVine, MD.

In brief, the article discusses:

  • 5 things you should consider seeing your doctor about during the pandemic
  • the importance of monitoring chronic conditions
  • many physicians are actually easier to contact now than before the outbreak

The full article is reproduced below.

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Here are five things to consider about getting non-COVID-19 care during the pandemic

When it comes to taking care of yourself during a pandemic, there are two things doctors want you to keep in mind. One is obvious and the other is easily overlooked.

Here’s the rule you already know: Follow the public health guidance about reducing your risk of exposure to the new coronavirus (COVID-19) that’s causing so much suffering around the world. Stay home as much as you can, and practice social (or physical) distancing when you must go out.

Now here’s the one that is not so obvious: Don’t focus only on COVID-19. Unfortunately, other illnesses aren’t taking a break during this crisis — doctors have to be aware of that, and patients need to be aware, too. That means you should stay on top of any chronic condition you might have, pay attention to new issues that may crop up and reach out to your provider if you have questions or need care.

That last bit may come as a surprise. It’s understandable if you think that doctors and hospitals are providing only COVID-related treatment — haven’t we all heard that routine care should be postponed? Besides, who wants to bother the frontline providers who are trying to save the desperately ill?

But, in fact, providers are treating patients, especially at Northwell Health, where all physicians are still finding ways to stay connected with patients. Care delivery may look a little different, but it continues, and it’s important that people take advantage of it. Otherwise, the pandemic will cause even more suffering and could be responsible in a roundabout way for another wave of victims.

If you’re feeling confused, or maybe a little nervous about going to a doctor’s office, here are five things to consider about getting non-COVID-19 care during a pandemic.

1. Postpone routine care, but don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater

You’ve probably heard that annual check-ups are on hold for the time being. Northwell doctors are delaying these and other non-essential services and procedures (think screening mammograms, for instance, or repairs of uncomplicated hernias) to conserve medical resources and allow patients to practice social distancing. But there’s plenty of care that falls outside those lines.

Obviously, if you’re having symptoms of a heart attack, you need to go to a hospital or call 911, but you also should let your doctor know if you’re experiencing other new, concerning symptoms. Feeling a sharp belly pain? Experiencing a serious flare-up in asthma symptoms now that the trees are starting to bud? Don’t hesitate — check in with your doctor. Don’t sit at home wondering if you should get help. If you’re not sure, call us.

2. Be prepared for care to look a little different

One upside to such a thorough disruption of normal life is that people have no choice but to try new things, and some of those innovations are working really well. One example: Congestive heart failure patients can develop fatigue, shortness of breath and fluid build-up, so BC — before coronavirus — they had frequent office visits to monitor their condition. Now telehealth offers the same checkpoints by allowing doctors to virtually talk with patients about how they’re feeling, get a report on their at-home blood pressure readings and check on their weight (a gain of a few pounds can indicate fluid retention).

Just as important, we can understand whether the condition has progressed to the point of causing trouble with breathing, just by watching patients speak on the video screen. We can also use telehealth when unexpected issues come up, such as an injury that needs a check, or blood pressure medication that requires adjustment. With the coronavirus crisis pushing us to use this technology, we’ve realized that there’s a lot we can do for patients over the phone or with a video call. It’s accelerated the development of a new type of health care delivery: Something that probably would have evolved over many years has instead been accepted in a matter of weeks. And that will benefit us all.

3. Stay in touch if you have a chronic condition

Diabetes, high blood pressure, congestive heart failure — conditions like these can worsen if they’re not carefully managed, and that continues to be true even now that the coronavirus is claiming so much attention. If you have a chronic condition, it’s more important than ever to monitor yourself by watching your weight, blood pressure, blood sugar or any other metrics you’ve been asked to track.

Report anything out of the ordinary to your provider. It’s also key to nurture your physical and mental health by carefully following medication instructions, eating and sleeping well, exercising, and taking breaks from the news and social media — and that’s true whether or not you have a chronic condition.

4. Don’t be nervous if you need an in-person exam or procedure

Northwell has taken numerous precautions to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19, on top of the health system’s standard rigorous infection-control procedures. Visitation at hospitals has been temporarily suspended (except under extraordinary circumstances), and staff and patients wear masks at all times. And at outpatient practices, a variety of safeguards are in use, including, in some practices, having arriving patients wait in their car until a staff-member brings them a mask and escorts them in. Call ahead of your appointment to see what specific precautions your doctor’s office is taking and find out their entry procedure.

5. Call with questions

With preventive and non-essential care on hold and the majority of patients with COVID-19 being managed from home, many physicians are actually easier to contact now than in normal times. We’re seeing fewer patients now, but we’re doing a lot of phone counseling — 90 percent of some practices now take place over the phone. If nothing else, that means this is the best time in years to give your doctor a call.

Jeffrey Kuvin, MD, is chair of cardiology at North Shore University Hospital, Long Island Jewish Medical Center and the Donald and Barbara School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell. He is also senior vice president of cardiology for Northwell’s Central and Eastern Regions and co-director of the Sandra Atlas Bass Heart Hospital.

Nancy LaVine, MD, is a physician specializing in internal medicine and director of ambulatory operations for the medical service line at Northwell Health.

Learn what Westchester Health is doing to protect our patients and staff against COVID-19

We are here to provide the care you need, when you need it. To learn what smart precautions we’re taking to minimize the spread of COVID-19 and keep you safe, visit our Coronavirus Digital Resource Center. To know how we’re responding to the outbreak and what to do if you’re feeling sick, visit our FAQ page (frequently asked questions). Whenever, wherever you need us, we’re here for you.

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