Is it safe to go to the doctor during coronavirus? What to know before your next visit

doctor with young girl

This article appeared in The Kansas City Star. Read the full story here.

As coronavirus cases surge across many parts of the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has urged people to avoid exposure to the contagious virus.

But that leaves some people wondering — should they go to a routine doctor’s visit?

Across the country, medical offices are taking precautions to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 while treating patients for unrelated health issues.

As states reopen, some medical facilities have opened their schedules for regular appointments, multiple news outlets reported this month.

Before venturing out, health officials recommend patients try to contact their doctors by phone or through telemedicine services. Anyone with non-urgent procedures should discuss rescheduling possibilities, the CDC said last month.

Health officials say it’s crucial to keep up with doctor’s appointments, even during the pandemic.

“Many patients have avoided seeking treatment, ordering their medications or seeing their doctors due to COVID-19 fears,” Dr. William Dale of the Center for Cancer and Aging in California told MarketWatch. “It is time for patients to re-engage with their providers. Cancer won’t stop for a pandemic and neither will heart disease, diabetes or other non-COVID 19 health issues.”

Lawrence John, president of the Pennsylvania Medical Society, echoed Dale’s comments and said it’s important for people with certain conditions to make in-person medical appointments, according to WHYY.

“I’m a big believer in telemedicine, and telemedicine can certainly accomplish a lot of things we need to do with patients, but it isn’t the same as seeing the patient face to face,” John said, according to the outlet. “…We were very concerned that patients were not getting the routine health care that they needed, and there are so many chronic diseases that need to be evaluated by the doctor on a regular basis.”

Doctors also worry children are not getting their vaccines before the school year, KCTV reported.

That concerned health officials in Washington state, fearing it may have adverse consequences down the line.

“During this pandemic, about the last thing we need is to start an outbreak of vaccine-preventable diseases like measles on top of COVID-19,” the Washington State Department of Health wrote in March on Medium.

For people who decide to visit doctors in person, officials recommend taking measures to help stay healthy.

Inside the medical facility, the CDC encourages patients to wear masks, avoid touching their faces and practice social distancing. If possible, people should use contactless payment options, according to health officials.

Doctors are also making adjustments, including screening people at the door and moving potentially sick patients to afternoon appointments, WHYY reported. Medical facilities are also making visitors wait behind plexiglass shields or in their cars before going to exam rooms, according to news outlets.

“They assured me they were taking every precaution possible,” patient Adrienne Saddington told WHYY. “And I’ve seen it: They give you a gown, they give you a mask, they’re wearing a mask, no one is in the waiting room. So I feel quite confident I’m safe.”

People who think they may have COVID-19 are encouraged to call their doctors before heading to their offices, according to the CDC.

Michael Ayers, an orthopedic surgeon in Massachusetts, told NBC10 that while “patients are stressed out,” they should feel comfortable coming back for a medical check-up.

“A lot of people have been sitting on conditions that are possibly something that should be taken care of,” he told the TV station. “It’s okay and safe to come in, so don’t be afraid to come in but also be patient because it will take some time.”

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You’ve got questions. That’s a good thing.

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