This week I want to write about a challenge that is facing patients and doctors alike – how to see a medical provider in the age of COVID-19. Many patients are afraid to go to their doctor’s office, fearing they will catch coronavirus, or they think their doctor can’t or won’t see them.
Most primary care doctors’ offices have stopped seeing patients in person for the most part. This is being done so that we can comply with the public health recommendation to physically distance ourselves to help prevent the spread of the virus. We also want to keep our office staffs as safe as possible since most doctors’ offices have sent their Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to hospitals or other acute care facilities where it can be put to better use.
Thankfully, most outpatient health care providers have been able to transition to telemedicine visits. These visits take two forms, telephonic (phone calls) or virtual (video). These types of visits have been around for a few years, but nearly all insurance companies, Medicare, and Medicaid have not wanted to pay doctors for performing these visits. Fortunately, this has changed with the declaration of the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency.
Telephonic visits work for a few types of medical problems, but most medical providers prefer to do virtual visits. There is much to be gained from seeing a patient on the screen. A provider can “examine” a number of things just by having the patient use their phone or computer camera. It also allows us to read body language and pick up on other nuances that a phone call would not allow.
If you have a chronic health condition that needs follow up, you should absolutely continue to see your provider virtually. This goes for new problems as well. We will still have to see a few patients in the office out of necessity. Many people think their doctor’s office is closed completely and go to an urgent care. You should contact your doctor first and ask if he or she can do telemedicine visits. Virtual visits can be done using a smart phone or computer. If you don’t have one of those, you can still use a traditional telephone for an audio-only visit.
I’d like to leave you with one last thought. Don’t avoid going to the emergency room if you have a medical emergency. Many people feel hospitals are filled with coronavirus and they should stay as far away as possible. Virtually all hospitals have taken precautions to separate “normal” patients from those they feel may have COVID-19. There are numerous accounts of people having heart attacks and other severe problems who have avoided going to the hospital for fear of catching COVID-19 and then dying of a treatable condition.
Coronavirus will be with us for a long time. Please stay safe and follow the recommendations of your public health officials.