A Quick Guide On What To Do About Your Doctors' Appointments

Here's which medical and dental visits you should keep and which you should postpone during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Should you go to routine physicals, dentist appointments, the pharmacy? What about elective surgeries and more pressing treatment? Here's what the experts say you should do during the continuing coronavirus outbreak.
Should you go to routine physicals, dentist appointments, the pharmacy? What about elective surgeries and more pressing treatment? Here's what the experts say you should do during the continuing coronavirus outbreak.

Even as many states are reopening, people still need to be cautious of their outings during the COVID-19 pandemic.

So where do doctors’ appointments come into play? Some appointments ― like a weekly massage or perhaps a routine dental cleaning ― you should still postpone, but what about vital screenings or monthly checkups for health conditions?

We spoke with some experts to bring you this guide on which appointments you should keep, which you should cancel, and how to safely go to the necessary ones in the time of the coronavirus:

Routine visits should be determined based on your health history, COVID-19 risk and what’s necessary.

First and foremost, call your doctors and discuss your specific case and whether they think you can wait to have a particular exam. Your health history, any specific factors that may increase your likelihood of disease, your health status and your chances of contracting a severe case of COVID-19 all play a role in determining if you should follow through with a routine appointment.

If you’re a healthy individual with no prior issues, in-person visits for items like physicals, colonoscopies or any other checkups “can maybe wait a few months ― usually you have a year or within several years to do any appointments like that,” said Adam Rosh, an emergency room physician in Detroit and the founder and CEO of Rosh Review.

But again, this all depends on your personal risk. “I postponed my annual screening mammogram for a couple of months because the facility was closed, but I scheduled it as soon as I could because I have a family history of breast cancer, and I take it very seriously,” Susan Bailey, an allergist and immunologist and president of the American Medical Association, told CNN in July. “The challenge overall is determining what can be postponed without potential long-term consequence.”

You might also want to consider postponing routine dental appointments, depending on where you live, according to Kavita Patel, HuffPost’s medical contributor and a practicing internal medicine physician in Washington, D.C.

“If you are in an area with a high number of cases, I would consider delaying it,” she told HuffPost in July. “If you are in an area that has had declines, I would schedule and ask on the phone what precautions your dentist and the hygienist are taking. If you do go, I would bring hand sanitizer and a mask to your appointment, just to have if you end up waiting in a waiting area. If you can wait in your car/outside and they can text you to come in, even better.”

Items such as manicures, pedicures and hair appointments can also wait if you’re worried about disease transmission, Rosh said. If you have a pet, you should also consider calling veterinarians to see if they advise bringing your animal in for a checkup or if that can wait as well.

Why all the fuss? Rosh said appointments typically come with having to sit in a waiting room ― potentially with other people who are sick ― and that increases your risk for exposure, especially if you’re indoors.

Inna Chern, a dentist in New York City, also noted that while health care offices tend to be cleaner than average public spaces, the risk could often arise from other areas of the building. Wearing a face covering and washing your hands can help mitigate some of that risk.

Chat with your doctor if your ‘elective’ procedure is becoming more urgent. If it’s not vital to your health or longevity, it can wait.

Many states canceled elective surgeries early on in the pandemic. This was done mainly to make sure health care workers had more medical supplies like masks and gloves to use, Rosh said.

This was necessary at the start of the pandemic, but the picture is far murkier now. And because of the raft of cancellations at the beginning of the pandemic, hospitals are now backlogged with surgeries, according to Harvard Business Review.

If your procedure isn’t considered an emergency, then it likely should still be postponed, according to experts. This includes cases related to sports medicine and cosmetic surgeries.

“Anything that can be delayed should be delayed,” Miles Varn, the CEO of health advisory firm PinnacleCare, told TODAY in July. “There’s no reason to put yourself at risk if the surgery isn’t essential at this time.”

If your procedure is vital to your health or you’re in a situation where time is of the essence, chat with your doctor about your options. You should also feel free to consult with hospitals about their COVID-19 precautions and procedures. Your risk of exposure may increase, but hospital officials should be able to tell you what they’re doing to protect patients (which likely includes sanitization practices, wearing protective equipment, spacing out visits by patients and limiting or banning visitors).

Remain vigilant when you take pharmacy trips.

It’s perfectly OK to pick up any necessary prescriptions or medicines at the drugstore. Just make sure you take the same necessary precautions you’ve been exercising since the start of the pandemic.

If you can utilize a drive-thru, that’s the best option. If you are going inside, stand 6 feet away from other customers, said Henry Hackney, a Rocklin, Illinois-based dentist and content director at Authority Dental. You should also wear a face mask, try to pay by credit card or phone if possible, and disinfect or wash your hands thoroughly once you leave. (This goes for doctors’ office visits, too.)

If you have regular cancer or addiction treatment appointments, you should also go — but there will likely be COVID-19 precautions in place.

Recovery centers are working hard to comply with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, so those that are currently in live-in treatment centers should stay unless otherwise advised by the treatment center, explained Sarah Johnson, chief medical officer at Landmark Recovery.

“Many outpatient programs have found ways to deliver care via telehealth or other modalities aligned with social distancing,” she said, noting that hundreds of AA and other types of recovery meetings around the world should be available online. “And many sponsors are able to meet in-person with their sponsees who need extra support as long as everyone is well and practicing preventive measures.”

Patients who are undergoing cancer treatments should discuss their follow-up options with their physicians, said Joshua Mansour, a hematologist and oncologist in Los Angeles. Each case is specific to that particular patient.

“A few situations where a patient should be seen in the clinic is if they are currently on active treatment receiving chemotherapy, have lab abnormalities that need to be followed, or are symptomatic in any way,” Mansour said.

Don’t put off any health assessments. If you aren’t going in person, you should do virtual check-ins.

According to a report from the Kaiser Family Foundation in May, almost half of adults say they or someone in their household has skipped or postponed medical care because of COVID-19. Experts are worried that the pandemic could lead to poor health outcomes because people may not seek care that they still need.

“People should absolutely speak with their physician before making decisions about forgoing care ... Vaccines should not wait, and certain screenings are critical. You do not want to end up in a position where you or a loved one is in the hospital because you opted against routine care,” Bailey told CNN.

Therapists are doing appointments with patients via virtual platforms, Skype or FaceTime. Even dentists and doctors are offering virtual consultations. If you have a question for your general practitioner, you can also call their office and ask if they have telehealth options or ask to speak with them on the phone.

If your physician’s office is closed and isn’t picking up the phone, or if they don’t provide a telehealth service, you can take other steps to connect. Rodney Rohde, a professor and chair with the clinical laboratory science program at Texas State College of Health Professions, said to check if your doctor has an online portal and ask questions through the site.

Other companies, like Small Door Veterinary, are providing a 24/7 open line of communication with vets through their app, which allows pet parents to contact and receive a response from a member of the medical team, access medical information, refill prescriptions and schedule a virtual consultation.

The bottom line is we need to take all the necessary precautions to control the spread of the virus while still taking care of ourselves.

This story has been updated to reflect newer information about COVID-19, state reopenings and safety measures.

Experts are still learning about COVID-19. The information in this story is what was known or available as of its posting, but guidance could change as scientists discover more about the virus. Please check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the most updated recommendations.


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