Barbara Bell knows the importance of medical care and regular visits to the doctor, and why they’re vital for her during the pandemic. Bell, a retired teacher, has rheumatoid arthritis and takes medication that suppresses her immune system.

“That causes me to be even more concerned about protective measures to avoid contact with COVID-19,” says Bell, a Pennsylvania State Education Association labor trustee. “Maintaining health care — both medical checkups and preventive screenings — are critical at any time, but are particularly challenging during the current pandemic. “Chronic disease management is essential to prevent the many serious effects of many diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, etc. Preventive screenings allow a person to identify and treat a medical condition early, with a goal of providing better outcomes.”

Keeping in control

A person’s quality of life is largely determined by their health, says Dr. Jason Doescher, chief medical officer at Mobe, a health and wellness company in Minneapolis.

“Our health is impacted by how we feel, think and react to stressors, so regular checkups and medical care are crucial, particularly during difficult times like these,” Doescher says. “By continuing to seek out health checkups and medical care when needed, we can maximize our potential to be healthy and take some control over our mental and physical well-being.”

According to Doescher, studies have shown that people are experiencing significantly more stress and anxiety — and that makes it difficult to maintain overall health.

“Health checkups, medical care and mental health support are essential,” he says. “COVID-19 poses a greater risk to those already struggling with their health, including people managing complex, chronic conditions. Thus, prevention and management of health for these individuals is more critical than ever.”

For Bell, obtaining medical care during the pandemic was and is “quite scary.” Bell says for her state’s stay-at-home order, which was from mid-March to the beginning of June, most if not all dentists were closed. But once it was lifted, she scheduled missed appointments, in addition to ones that were due during the summer months.

“Many medical providers were switching to video visits,” she says. “Elective surgeries were postponed or canceled. During that time, my periodontal appointments were canceled, and I chose to defer other screenings until a later date.”

Since the end of May 2020, however, Bell has undergone two blood tests; had a video visit for wellness and a video visit follow-up with her rheumatologist; had two eye doctor visits — one for cataract surgery followup and one for monitoring her “dry eye” condition— and visited a hospital clinic to have eye drops made for dry eye; undergone a mammogram and a bone density test; and been to the periodontist twice.

“I have been in hospitals, doctor offices, labs and professional buildings,” she adds.

Once the stay-at-home order was relieved in June, there were still many mitigation practices still in place, including limited occupancy in places of business, masks mandates and maintenance of social distance, plus some others.

“I was very concerned initially and continue to be,” she says. “I have found, however, that the providers I have seen have taken every precaution, and I have felt safe.”

Tips to stay safe

When determining whether to seek care, weigh the risks, Doescher says. There are risks going anywhere, and doctors’ offices are no exception.

“However, these offices are skilled and attentive to the safety of their patients,” he says. “Often, the benefits of seeking care outweigh the concerns.”

If people defer their medical care during the pandemic, the range of individual health issues and their progression is personal and unique, Doescher says. However, the longer and further health deteriorates, the harder it is to restore.

“Particularly for people managing chronic health concerns, continued attention to their medical care and overall health is extremely important,” he says. “But for anyone and everyone, if left unchecked, diseases can compound and create other diseases.”

He offers some tips for people to safely go to their doctor during the pandemic.

“Telehealth and virtual care options are great avenues to receive care and guidance from the comfort of your own home — during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond,” he says. “However, if you prefer in-person visits or your condition or treatment requires them, don’t feel like you have to skip your health care.”

Discussing concerns with the office staff and understanding the process to maintain Centers for Disease Control and Prevention safety protocols will contribute to a safer and better experience, as well.

“Additionally, masks, gloves and limiting the duration in the office, particularly a waiting room, may help,” Doescher says. “Right now, many offices have ‘healthy’ appointments for wellness and prevention in the morning and ‘sick’ appointments in the afternoon for those who may be contagious. This allows for cleaning between and after each patient and ensuring there is limited contact with those who may spread any diseases.”

Bell says these are the things she had to do or to know and provides some tips from a patient’s perspective.

Always wear a mask and maintain social distance.

Check the protocol for each provider. “Many will inform you when the appointment is made or prior to the visit,” Bell says. “ If this doesn’t occur, ask. Some have you wait in your car until you can be taken directly into a treatment room. Others (particularly hospitals) require that you enter through certain entrances where screenings occur. Some will conduct screening questions prior to the visit. Others require that you come alone.”

Check payment requirements. Some only accept credit cards, or they’ll send a bill to reduce handling of money. Utilize the hand sanitizer located everywhere.

Be on time. Many appointments are now being scheduled at times, so that fewer people are in the office at one time.

“The important thing is to communicate with your doctor and the staff,” Bell says. “Ask questions if you are uncertain about anything. Utilize technology when appropriate.”

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