Richmond Times-Dispatch

Don’t let COVID-19 fear delay necessary medical care

- BY ARTHUR J. VAYER JR. AND STEPHEN C. ARNER Arthur J. Vayer Jr., M.D., is a general surgeon and president of the Medical Society of Virginia. Contact him at: president@msv.org Steven C. Arner is executive vice president and chief operating officer at Roa

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.

 ?? ALEXA WELCH EDLUND/ TIMES-DISPATCH ?? In mid-March, two health careworker­swaited towelcome visitors to Bon Secours Saint Mary’s Hospital.
ALEXA WELCH EDLUND/ TIMES-DISPATCH In mid-March, two health careworker­swaited towelcome visitors to Bon Secours Saint Mary’s Hospital.

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