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While living through a global pandemic, it can be challenging to address various health care needs. But previous virus outbreaks (e.g., SARS) have taught us that waiting too long for routine care can lead to other complications down the line.
A recent study found only 31% of U.S. consumers feel comfortable making an in-person visit to the doctor, despite a majority viewing their doctor as the most trustworthy source of information. Additionally, 72% have dramatically changed how they use traditional health care services.
Here are seven health care priorities you shouldn’t skip, even during a pandemic:
1. Non-COVID Medical Emergencies
Nationally, emergency room visits are down 42%. This concerns many health professionals who know that heart attacks and other life-threatening conditions aren’t hitting the pause button because of the pandemic. If you or a loved one are experiencing any emergency symptoms like difficulty breathing, prolonged loss of consciousness, chest pain and heaviness, or severe bleeding, call 911 or go to your closest emergency room immediately.
2. Chronic Conditions
During the 2002-2004 SARS outbreak, a study showed that hospitalizations for diabetes plummeted, then dramatically increased afterward. Those with chronic illness are already at a higher risk for COVID-19, and fear of exposure may keep them from their regular care routine. However, it’s important to take care of yourself during this time. Most offices are now seeing patients on an appointment-only basis or through telephone or video visits. Call your doctor directly to see whether telemedicine can help you receive the care you need from home. If you do need to schedule a face-to-face appointment, call ahead to learn about the safety protocols of your clinic and how best to protect yourself, such as wearing a mask and attending appointments solo.
3. Routine Vaccinations
As the world races to find a COVID-19 vaccine, it’s important to note there are vaccinations for various other diseases that impact us all, like influenza. However, a steep decline in regular shots worries health professionals who anticipate a rise in preventable diseases, such as measles and shingles. Officials stress the importance of keeping up with routine vaccinations, particularly the flu vaccine when it’s available in the fall, in case more social distancing is required in your area in the future.
4. Prenatal Care
For regular prenatal appointments, in-person visits may be less necessary. However, expectant moms should not skip certain check-ups. Some may even be conducted outside the doctor’s office, via telemedicine and curbside care appointments. Your clinician may also group screenings and vaccinations together to reduce the amount of in-person visits, following new guidelines from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
5. Annual Physicals
Yearly check-ups are another example of appointments that should not be skipped but can often be conducted via telemedicine. Doing so can help screen for health issues before they arise. Consult with your doctor about setting up this year’s physical.
6. Pharmacy Visits
Despite the fear surrounding in-person doctor visits during a pandemic, the same fear does not seem to apply to visiting a pharmacy. A recent study found that almost 50% of respondents felt comfortable visiting a pharmacy to pick up prescriptions. In fact, only 9% of those surveyed used a home delivery service for their medications, while 90% visited the pharmacy in person. For those who don’t feel comfortable going in person, there are other options such as drive-up pharmacy windows or mail-order services. Check with your insurance provider to see what’s covered by your plan.
7. Mental Health Screening & Counseling
Isolation from social distancing is difficult for many and may cause some of us to feel more anxious, depressed or irritable. If you are feeling this way, you are not alone—help is available. Talk to your primary care doctor for support or call your insurance company to find out which services are available to you. Some providers offer resources for free or at low cost, as well as appointments conducted from the privacy of your home. If you or someone you know are having thoughts of suicide, please call the Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 and for immediate help, call 911.
To protect patients and providers alike during in-person appointments, many doctor’s offices are implementing new protocols. In addition to the constant use of masks and personal protective gear, many suggest patients wait in their cars until they receive a call from the office to come in. Some facilities are also conducting temperature checks at the door and opting for contactless payment methods.
Bottom line: Visiting your doctor may be safer than delaying care, and some appointments cannot—and should not—be avoided. However, it’s important to talk to your primary care physician about any concerns and to discuss whether an in-person visit or telemedicine is the better option for you at this time.
This article first appeared as featured content in Harvard Pilgrim’s HaPi Guide newsletter on June 30, 2020. To stay up-to-date on the latest healthcare topics such as the future of health care, new ways to be healthy or the business of insurance, sign up to receive our monthly communication: