Don’t let COVID-19 fear delay necessary medical care
By now, we all know the COVID-19 safety rules: Stay home whenever possible, maintain social distance and wear a mask in public. These simple rules are an important way to help us stay safe and keep our families healthy. Another equally important way to protect personal health is to continue to get necessary medical care. Unfortunately, many people have delayed needed medical care out of fear that a doctor’s office or hospital visit might expose them to COVID-19. Indeed, research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that through June 30, more than 4 in 10 U.S. adults delayed or avoided care due to COVID-19 fears.
The data tells a similar story in the commonwealth. Virginia hospital data show that patient volumes were down 11% during the first half of 2020 and emergency department visits were down a startling 38%. This includes sharp declines in patients seeking emergency care for a stroke or a heart attack, potentially fatal conditions that require immediate attention. In September, Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy asked Virginians if they’ve delayed care during COVID-19 and found that 14% of parents said they have delayed vaccinations for their children and that 39% of adults have put off care this year.
While safety concerns are understandable, people should know that delaying needed medical treatment is much riskier than visiting a doctor’s office or hospital in Virginia.
COVID-19 safety guidelines do not discourage people from seeking care in a doctor’s office or hospital. Nor do they prevent patients from consulting physicians or other health care providers when needed. Early on during the pandemic, nonemergency scheduled surgical procedures temporarily were halted. This was done to free up hospital bed space and treatment capacity, and preserve personal protective equipment in the event of a surge of COVID-19 patients. By the time those procedures resumed in May, Virginia doctor’s offices and hospitals had implemented a range of new safety precautions and enhanced cleaning protocols to sanitize their facilities to protect patients and visitors. If you’ve been to a doctor’s office or hospital since then, you surely have seen these new protocols in place: Mask requirements, temperature checks, visitation and waiting room limits, and wellness questionnaires are common safeguards. In short, every possible precaution is being taken to protect patient health. And if case counts and hospitalizations continue to rise, physicians and hospitals armed with time-tested experience combating COVID-19 are prepared to respond accordingly.
Even in these times, people who need care should consult their family physician. When scheduling an appointment, feel free to ask about the safety standards implemented at your local practice. The importance of preventive care — whether flu shots, routine vaccinations, or even wellness visits and checkups— did not come to a screeching halt when COVID-19 arrived. Maintaining personal health is a lifelong commitment that includes regular exercise, healthy eating and, yes, preventive medical care. Delaying care can do harm to your health, especially if you are having a health care emergency. In those instances, do not wait to seek treatment — immediately go to your local emergency room. Many patients have suffered serious health complications from avoiding care during an emergency. Don’t jeopardize your health due to COVID-19 fears.
Health care professionals are prepared to keep patients safe and ensure they receive necessary treatment. They also adhere to strict guidelines from the Virginia Department of Health and the CDC. Patients who need nonemergency care should consult their doctor to develop an appropriate care plan for in-person health care services, including infant and child vaccination visits, which significantly have declined during the pandemic. It is more important now than ever before that children and adults stay up to date on vaccines, which protect patients and help keep communities safe by preventing other outbreaks during an already tumultuous time.
In addition to preventive care, emergent health issues such as unexpected injuries, screenings or other concerns should not be ignored. If you are uncomfortable with an inperson visit, contact your provider to discuss other diagnostic and treatment options such as telehealth consultations. Regular checkups are essential to preventing future health issues and catching problems early.
Please know that doctors and hospitals across the commonwealth are invested in the health of patients and their communities both through instituting enhanced safety measures at their facilities and by encouraging people to wearmasks, maintain social distance and protect their health through responsible behaviors. As health care providers, we are available whenever you need us for emergencies or routine medical care.