Visiting The Doctor During Coronavirus: What You Should Know

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.

In brief, the article discusses:

  • What warrants an in-person visit and what can wait
  • What conditions can be handled by a virtual visit
  • What to do if you have a medical emergency
  • What doctors’ offices are doing to protect patients from contracting the virus
  • If you have concerns, call your physician

The full article is reproduced below.

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What To Know About Visiting The Doctor During Coronavirus

Getting care for non-coronavirus conditions is possible through options like telemedicine and extra in-office precautions.

Almost time for that annual physical? Or maybe you burned your hand pulling a loaf of bread out of the oven—not too badly, but enough that you think a professional should take a look at it. If you’re wondering whether or not you should see your doctor right now, you’re not alone. With all that’s going on in the world, many are wondering how they can access a physician for non-COVID medical concerns. What warrants an in-person visit, and what can wait? Are appointments scarce? What can be handled over the phone? What are doctors doing to protect those who haven’t been exposed to the virus?

“Unfortunately, acute and chronic illnesses unrelated to COVID-19 still continue during this crisis,” says Jeffrey Kuvin, MD, chair of cardiology at Northwell Health’s North Shore University Hospital. “We would never want to make patients feel as if they’re abandoned. Just because we are putting most of our resources toward the crisis doesn’t mean that we are putting all our resources toward it—we are fully equipped to take care of our patients as we normally would.”

But with increasing recommendations for social distancing and continued pleas from infectious disease experts, elected officials, and the immunocompromised to stay at home, it can be hard to know when you should see your doctor. Kuvin, along with Nancy LaVine, MD, an internal medicine physician and medical director at Northwell Health, provided some clarity about health care during the coronavirus pandemic.

What can be handled over the phone?

With telehealth technologies and virtual capabilities advancing by the day, it’s easier than ever for doctors to follow up with patients remotely. Many physicians are modifying follow-up care and other non-emergent visits to take place over the phone, allowing patients to stay home and avoid contracting or spreading the virus.

An example many may not expect: follow-up care for congestive heart failure.

“These patients need to be monitored closely and often come to their care providers to make sure their blood pressure, weight, and swelling are in check,” says Kuvin. “And these are all things that we can often do remotely. Using video technology, we can talk to them about their lifestyle, assess swelling and other symptoms, and discuss changes to their medication.” Another example is remote monitoring for patients with pacemakers and defibrillators. These devices allow for computerized evaluation from anywhere.

In fact, LaVine expects that this experience will rapidly modify how we approach follow-up care in the future. “This situation has accelerated a new type of medical care delivery,” she says. “We’re rapidly figuring out that there’s a lot we can do for patients over the phone or with a video call that we previously scheduled an office visit for.”

What should I see my doctor for right now—and what can wait?

Each person’s healthcare needs are unique, and every doctor is handling this situation differently—so the answer to this question will always be personal to you and your provider. However, LaVine offers some direction: “If you’re otherwise healthy and just need a routine checkup, it can probably wait until after the worst of the pandemic has passed. If you have new, worrying symptoms, or if you have a chronic illness like diabetes, then you should absolutely still address those needs.”

If you’re still unsure whether or not to make an in-person appointment, give your doctor a call. They may ask a few extra questions to rule out the possibility that you’ve been exposed to the virus—and they may take some extra precautions, such as offering you a mask to wear before you enter the facility—but otherwise, it’s business as usual.

What if I have a medical emergency?

Any sign of a medical emergency should be taken seriously and addressed immediately. Heart attacks and broken bones still occur during the pandemic, and they still need care.

“If you think you need to go to the emergency room, call 911,” says Kuvin. “Emergency rooms and urgent care facilities are open for business and are treating patients with and without the coronavirus. Make sure you identify yourself as someone who is not showing symptoms of the virus but needs to be seen urgently.”

Don’t be alarmed if emergency room personnel show up in masks and protective equipment—it’s a precaution to protect both you and themselves from potential exposure.

What are doctors doing to protect me from contracting the virus?

Though every facility may have different practices, doctors are doing all they can to help slow the spread of the virus and flatten the curve. According to LaVine, all Northwell medical personnel are wearing masks and taking extra steps to protect themselves, patients, and the general public, and patients are offered masks as well.

“In a lot of offices, we’ve also rearranged waiting rooms to space chairs out further and facilitate social distancing,” she says. “And, unless someone is experiencing serious symptoms that require immediate medical care, we handle most coronavirus cases over the phone. If someone is ill and needs to come in, we get them into a room very quickly so they aren’t with other patients for a prolonged period of time.”

Many hospitals are also maintaining “COVID-negative” rooms reserved for those seeking care who don’t have symptoms or a diagnosis, allowing for greater separation between those with the virus and those without.

The takeaway

Your health is a priority whether you’ve been in contact with the virus or not—period. If you’re ever unsure of whether or not you need medical attention, or if you’re concerned about exposing yourself to the virus by coming in for a visit, call your physician.

“I think this should provide some measure of comfort to patients who need to be seen in person,” says Kuvin. “We are doing all we can to decrease risk as much as possible, alongside the usual precautions we always take to make sure our facilities are sanitized and safe. All these steps bring the transmission of the coronavirus to a very low risk.”

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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