Is it safe to go to the doctor’s office?

Friday, July 24, 2020

With COVID-19 rates stubbornly high around the United States, you might be wondering if it’s safe to go to the doctor’s office right now. Rest assured that medical professionals are doing all they can to make sure your experience is disinfected and safe.

“Some care can be delayed but even some preventative care should not be delayed at this time,” said Premera Chief Medical Officer Dr. Mia Wise. “This is a great time to stay connected with your primary care. Your PCP team should be able to help you return to care in a safe fashion. If you are not sure if your care is time sensitive, reach out to inquire.”

Both Dr. Wise and Premera Associate Medical Director Dr. Neil Kaneshiro stressed the importance of following the recommended vaccination schedule. The number of vaccines ordered has dropped by 30% in recent months. This is concerning because it could lead to an increase in diseases we already have under control.

Changes to Expect

When you call to make an appointment, you might be asked more questions than you’re used to. This is because clinics are trying to separate patients experiencing symptoms of COVID from patients coming in for wellness checks.

“Clinics will screen patients for symptoms or recent exposure and ensure that those patients with positive screening are seen in a separate part of the clinic,” Dr. Wise said.                    

Dr. Kaneshiro, took New Day viewers on a tour of his pediatric clinic. His clinic has two floors, so one is dedicated to patients showing symptoms of COVID. Other clinics might have sick patients come in the mornings and well visits in the afternoons.

Your medical team might also request that you limit who goes to the appointment. If possible, send just the adult patient or just one adult with a child.

Arrival at the Clinic

Signs on the door remind everyone to wear a mask while inside and to tell the staff if they are experiencing any symptoms of COVID.  Everyone who enters the clinic has their temperature taken, including staff members. 

When you go to the doctor’s office, you might also find that you spend little time in the waiting area. Some clinics have patients wait outside until their exam room is ready. Others have patients wait in exam rooms rather than linger in common areas.

On the topic of exam rooms, they are thoroughly disinfected between patients. Kaneshiro showed New Day viewers how all touched surfaces, including door handles, chairs, and countertops are disinfected before the next patient enters.

Seniors 

Seniors are at higher risk of COVID infection and complications. People over age 65 also have more health conditions that need care. This raises the question, is it worth potential exposure to go to the doctor for a check-up?

“Every patient has their own individual risk factors,” Dr. Kaneshiro said. “Visits to the doctor need to be thought about carefully. The best way to manage that is to have a conversation with your physician or physician’s office. They can help you decide on what is appropriate.”

They might also direct you to no-contact virtual care visits. Those covered by Medicare plans must use healthcare providers with traditional brick and mortar clinics rather than the new app-based care providers.

Kaneshiro’s best tip is “make sure you have a good primary care provider who you can trust.”

Virtual Care

Physical examination and lab testing isn’t always necessary, Kaneshiro said. Some conditions, like dermatological and mental health issues can be treated through a phone or video appointment.

“Telehealth has gone 0 to 90 in 2 months,” Kaneshiro said. 

Healthcare providers who didn’t previously offer care virtually got up to speed quickly and opened this new option for patients. And it’s going well. In fact, all signs point to virtual care sticking around long after the COVID crisis subsides.

“This is a whole new world for medicine,” Kaneshiro said.

The Future of COVID

The good news is that vaccine development is looking good, Kaneshiro said. A few candidates are nearing FDA approval. The vaccine is going to be key to getting back to near-normal life.

“I, unfortunately, see a potential long-term issue with it because it's such a smart virus," Kaneshiro said.

He explained that the silent and mild infections it produces in many infected people make it likely to stick around for a long time. Even vaccines cannot guarantee a person won’t get COVID. 

“It’s going to be in the population for a while,” he said.

He did give some hope though.

“If we do our part, each one of us, wear our masks, don't expose ourselves unnecessarily and hang tight for the vaccine, things will get back to some semblance of normal quicker than if we just give up and say, oh I can't take it anymore,” Kaneshiro said. “So we just really need to do our part to help ourselves, our families and each other.”

Dr. Kaneshiro takes us behind-the-scenes at his clinic.

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