When the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak first emerged in the United States, healthcare providers pressed pause on non-urgent in-person visits to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and to avoid overwhelming the healthcare system. Most medical practices turned to telehealth—also called virtual care—to provide healthcare to patients while limiting exposure to the virus.
These efforts appear to have worked and have enabled healthcare providers to prepare to safely see patients who require in-person visits. Now, healthcare providers say it’s time to reschedule those preventive care appointments such as yearly wellness checks, vaccinations and cancer screenings.
Wellness Checks Can Be Done in Person or Online
If you have an upcoming yearly checkup, keep it. Appointments that do not require a physical exam or face-to-face contact can shift to a virtual care appointment with your provider. Virtual care allows you to stay at home and communicate with your healthcare providers through phone, tablet or computer.
Sometimes, however, you need to be seen in person. This is true if you have a chronic condition such as hypertension, diabetes or heart disease that requires your healthcare provider to monitor the status of your overall health.
“I cannot check your blood pressure or heart rate if you’re not in the office,” says UNC family medicine physician Sarah Ruff, MD. “And for my patients who have uncontrolled diabetes, I need to be able to test their A1C,” which is a blood test that measures average blood glucose levels.
Don’t Delay Vaccinations
It is very important to keep up with your children’s vaccinations because vaccinations are the best way to protect your children against many dangerous diseases.
The number of vaccines administered to children has dropped significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This has healthcare providers concerned because delays in vaccines could lead to outbreaks of serious diseases such as measles and whooping cough.
If your child is behind on his or her vaccinations, call your doctor to get those scheduled soon. Ask your doctor’s office staff to explain their COVID-19 prevention strategy if you have concerns.
Talk to Your Doctor About Cancer Screenings
If your mammogram, colonoscopy or other cancer screening was canceled, talk to your doctor about when to reschedule it.
“At the beginning (of the COVID-19 pandemic), we were putting those off because they weren’t emergencies, and some of those procedures are done in the hospital, so we didn’t want to burden the hospital,” Dr. Ruff says. “But now we’re thinking more long term and understand we can’t put off everybody’s mammogram until next year.” Mammograms are critical to detect breast cancer early, when it’s highly treatable.
Keep in mind that there may be a slight delay in getting an appointment as many people reschedule their appointments, so go ahead and make the call.
“The later you call, the longer you will have to wait,” Dr. Ruff says.
If you have a concern such as blood in your stool or a lump in your breast, call your doctor immediately.
Get Help Immediately for Emergencies
“If you’re having something such as chest pain, that’s serious—COVID or no COVID—and you should either call your doctor or just go to the emergency room,” Dr. Ruff says. “The ERs are separating COVID patients from non-COVID patients.”