Is it safe to get routine medical care at a clinic?

Staying Safe

A: Yes! Yes, yes and yes. Yes!!! Please do not let the pandemic keep you from getting routine screenings and needed medical care!

To answer this question, we’re bringing back an updated version of a post from all the way back in JUNE, when this was already true.

What’s new at this point? Well, most important, most clinicians (in the United States and other high-income nations) have been fully vaccinated and we know more about how to prevent COVID-19 transmission.

Also, screening tests are a year behind. Mental health needs are higher. Behavioral health issues like heavy drinking and sedentary lifestyle are starting to turn into real health problems for many. We know a lot more about groups that do not do as well with virtual appointments, too.

Throughout 2020, especially early on, healthcare facilities and clinicians had to delay hundreds of thousands of patient visits. Diagnostic imaging studies, routine laboratory tests, non-emergency surgeries, and in-person office visits were delayed or canceled. Many clinics rapidly transitioned visits to telemedicine.

We’re starting to see the impact of all those delays in health outcomes. Cancers are being diagnosed later. People are turning up with conditions that have been untreated for much longer than normal. This is a big enough problem that at the recent FDA meeting about Emergency Use Authorization for the J&J vaccine, there was a long discussion about excluding 2020 data on health events in long-term population studies of the vaccine safety. 2020 is just not giving us typical health data. All-cause mortality was through the roof due to COVID-19 itself. Early-stage diagnoses were way down, and later-stage diagnoses were up. It’s a real mess.

Clinicians have implemented plans to keep healthcare workers and patients safe. Schedules have been adjusted to minimize the number of people in a given place to ensure social distancing. You can expect to answer questions about fever, cough, known exposure to COVID-19 when you schedule the appointment, prior to the appointment, and when you arrive at the office before entry. Anticipate temperature screening (no-touch), hand washing/sanitizer at entry, and universal masking (covering face and nose) as well.

What to ask before a clinician visit:

1. Is telemedicine (virtual visit) an option?

Your clinic will likely tell you if a virtual visit is appropriate, or if an in-person visit is necessary. For those who prefer it, telemedicine has come a long way in the last year! Ask the office if you can do that. Telemedicine requires a patient to have access to technology (smart phone or computer or tablet) and a reliable internet connection, which doesn’t work for everyone, but it works great for some. Your clinician may also ask you to come in after talking to you via telemedicine. There are also certain conditions and evaluations that require in-person visits for testing, treatment, or clinical examination. Most important, if you are having a health emergency you should not delay care.

2. What changes have been made to keep me safe?

Expect to answer screening questions about symptoms of Covid-19 or exposures when you schedule your appointment. You will likely be asked to check-in virtually, and waiting rooms have been reimagined to maximize safety. You may have to schedule lab appointments instead of walking-in for laboratory testing. Some practices may ask patients to wait in cars and will text/call the patient when the office is ready to see them. There are new entrance/exit pathways to allow for social distancing and new diagnostic testing protocols. Visitor policies are hospital-dependent and these policies change based on case numbers.

3. If I am feeling sick, should I delay going to the clinic to avoid getting sick?

You should not delay seeking emergency care. Unfortunately, we now know that fear related to COVID-19 and lack of access to telehealth services has led to delays in seeking care for emergencies such as heart attack and stroke. Delaying care if you have an emergency will result in greater harm.

4. Should I take my kids to the clinic for their vaccines?

Yes! Keep well-child visits and vaccine appointments. You can reach out to your pediatrician’s office to talk with any questions about the best, healthiest way to balance risks for your family.
This post was originally co-written by Nerdy Guest Dr. Eve Bloomgarden, a co-founder of Dear Pandemic partner organization Impact, way back in JUNE! Impact is a physician-led organization developing and disseminating evidence-based advice to patients, policymakers, and other decision-makers impacted by COVID-19.

Link to original FB post