Fact Checked

Delaying Care or Avoiding Healthcare Settings Due to the Coronavirus? Think Again.

When was the last time you saw your doctor? No, really. Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020, have you or your family delayed your routine care or even avoided seeking medical attention when you might’ve otherwise if not for the pandemic? 

If so, you are not alone. Nearly half of Americans say they have skipped or postponed medical care due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Delay in Care May Mean a Decline in Health  

Outpatient visits declined by as much as 60% and emergency department visits declined by 42% across the United States during late March/early April compared to baseline (non-pandemic) timeframes. 

This was, of course, primarily due to concerns for safety and the public being asked to stay home to prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

Patients and their families were, and perhaps still are, scared to interact with the health system in fear that they may contract the coronavirus. 

But, what happens when you or your family member ignores their chronic illness or refuses to go to the emergency room for something serious like a heart attack? 

Unnecessary complications and even death. 

Tell Me Something Good  

Fewer in-person visits do not mean zero contact or care from doctors. Telemedicine has really taken off. Telemedicine is when a doctor uses technology to deliver care to a patient at a distance (have you ever done a “virtual visit”?). 

The use of telemedicine during COVID-19 peaked during mid-April, but is still being used more now than before the pandemic. In addition, most outpatient practices have seen a steady rise of in-person patient visits over the past several months and as of mid-June, are getting closer to baseline (within 20% or so). 

It’s important now more than ever to take care of ourselves and our families. What should you know about and prepare for as you go back to seeing our wonderful healthcare providers?

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What Are You Missing?

The first step you can take is to inventory what you might be behind on. This can include appointments for known chronic diseases you may have as well as any preventive care you might’ve missed or delayed. In a time of so many unknowns, this may help give you some sense of control. Your health is important. What are you (and your family) missing?

  • Annual physical exam with your primary care doctor (don’t forget well-child visits!)
  • Follow-up exams or labs with a specialist
  • Dental exams
  • Prescription refills
  • Vaccines (for you and your children!)
  • Cancer screenings
  • Anything else?

The Doctor Will See You Now – What to Expect

Every state is in a different stage of reopening and has different laws related to the COVID-19 response. You will need to reach out to your own individual healthcare provider(s) for specific rules they may have, but here are some general expectations that many practices are adopting:

  • Increased time and space between patients:
    • Spaced out appointments
    • Little/no sitting in a waiting room 
    • One-way traffic whenever possible
    • Screening patients and staff for possible COVID-19 symptoms
    • Required face coverings for all patients and staff
    • Hand sanitizer availability
    • Disinfecting surfaces thoroughly and often

Remember:

    • Delaying care may be dangerous for your health
    • In general, it is safe and advisable to go to see your doctor. It will not be the same experience as before the coronavirus pandemic. Please talk with your healthcare team if you have questions or concerns with their policies and procedures.
    • You may be encouraged to use various telemedicine services (“virtual visits”)
    • When in doubt, you can always call your primary care provider or dial 911 (in case of an emergency)

Reference List 

1. Hamel L, Kearney A, Kirzinger A, et al. KFF Health Tracking Poll - May 2020. Kaiser Family Foundation. https://www.kff.org/report-section/kff-health-tracking-poll-may-2020-health-and-economic-impacts/. Published May 27, 2020. Accessed July 16, 2020.

2. Mehrotra A, Chernew M, Linetsky D, Hatch H, Cutler D. The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Outpatient Visits: Practices Are Adapting to the New Normal. The Commonwealth Fund. https://www.commonwealthfund.org/publications/2020/jun/impact-covid-19-pandemic-outpatient-visits-practices-adapting-new-normal. Published June 25, 2020. Accessed July 16, 2020. 

3. Hartnett KP, Kite-Powell A, DeVies J, et al. Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Emergency Department Visits — United States, January1, 2019–May 30, 2020. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2020;69:699–704. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6923e1. Accessed July 16, 2020.

4. Solomon BS, Hasselfeld BW. Don't Avoid Your Doctor During the Coronavirus Pandemic. Johns Hopkins Medicine. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/coronavirus/dont-avoid-your-doctor-during-the-coronavirus-pandemic. Published April 30, 2020. Accessed July 16, 2020. 

5. Nania R. The Doctor Will See You Now: In-Person Visits Slowly Resume. AARP. https://www.aarp.org/health/conditions-treatments/info-2020/primary-care-visits-covid-19.html. Published May 15, 2020. Accessed July 16, 2020.

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