Visiting the Doctor During COVID-19: What to Expect and Staying Safe

By Kenneth E. Smith, MD, MBA, Chief Medical Officer, Inter Valley Health Plan

Staying at home avoiding public places and gatherings has been key to protecting your health during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, as we adjust to the “new normal” of life in a COVID-19 environment, it is time to catch up on routines and most importantly, the maintenance of your health.  After months of steering clear of people, the thought of going into a doctor’s office can be frightening.

A recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that almost 50% of Americans said they or a family member have skipped or delayed medical care because of the pandemic and 11% have said that the person’s health condition worsened because of this missed care.

The Dangers of Avoiding Your Doctor

Missed appointments to receive needed medical care can be incredibly risky for adults over the age of 65, especially those with chronic health conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and asthma. If chronic diseases like these are left untreated, it can result in permanent damage to your health.

If you wait until your symptoms become worse, you can end up needing drastic medical care. Instead of recovering at home you may end up in the emergency room or in the hospital with a long, difficult recovery.

Additionally, keeping up with immunizations is now more important than ever. Make sure you are up to date on the following:

– Influenza (the flu)

– Pneumonia

– Tetanus, Diphtheria (tDAP)

– Shingles

– Measles, Mumps and Rubella

Staying Safe at the Doctor’s Office

Since the pandemic began, all doctors’ offices, labs and hospitals have implemented very strict protocols to keep patients safe. Here are some of the things you can expect:

  • A screening process when you enter the clinical area, including being asked about and assessed for symptoms of coronavirus such as fever, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing. They may use a touchless thermometer for temperature testing upon arrival as well.
  • Staff wearing personal protective equipment such as face masks and gloves if in contact with a person with coronavirus symptoms
  • Observance of social distancing with lines spaced in six feet increments for waiting, check ins and picking up prescriptions
  • Masks provided for anyone with symptoms of coronavirus
  • Frequent handwashing or use of hand sanitizer by the staff and patients at the doctor’s office
  • Strict disinfectant cleaning protocols for all surfaces including reception desks, chairs and payment terminals

 When you visit your doctor’s office, here is what you can do:

  • Wear a mask whether you have symptoms or not
  • Wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and water (or use a hand sanitizer) when you enter the office, when you leave the office, and when you arrive home
  • Avoid touching your face after you leave the office
  • Wait outside the office for your appointment or choose a spot that is about six feet apart from others
  • Limit touching surfaces and objects in the office

The Use of Telemedicine

Telemedicine or telehealth has risen significantly since COVID-19 and is a great way to keep medical appointments in the comfort of your own home. Telehealth gives patients the option to consult with their healthcare provider remotely using live video, audio and even instant messaging. Medicare beneficiaries are covered for virtual face-to-face (video) visits which can be a very useful resource for patients and their caregivers when an in-person visit isn’t necessary.

Please remember that the fear of going to the doctor or emergency room can make your situation worse. If you are unsure of your symptoms or wondering about new policies and protocols, give your doctor’s office a call. You can also take advantage of additional support by calling your Medicare health plan’s member care team.

About the Author: Kenneth E. Smith, MD, MBA is the Chief Medical Officer for Inter Valley Health Plan, a not-for-profit, federally qualified HMO contracted with Medicare with over 40 years in the business serving members in Southern CA. Call 800-500-7018 or TTY/TDD 711, or visit  www.IVHP.com

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