Months into the coronavirus pandemic, you may be wondering if it’s time to finally schedule those doctor’s appointments you’ve been putting off. And though you may be worried about exposing your health at your local doctor’s office, we have good news. There are ways to safely visit your doctor during the pandemic, so you can take certain steps to protect yourself from COVID-19 while making sure to get the care you need.
What is a primary care doctor? A primary care physician is a medical doctor who’s trained to prevent, diagnose, and treat a broad array of illnesses and injuries in the general population. They provide something called comprehensive care, which means they address chronic, long-term conditions as well as more acute conditions like the cold or flu.
For most patients, primary care is often the first step in addressing their healthcare needs. While the family doctor or general practitioner fulfilled this role in the past, there are now a variety of types of physicians that provide primary care. In addition to family doctors, you may visit an internist, pediatrician, geriatrician, obstetrician-gynecologists, nurse practitioner or a physician's assistant instead.
How do I know if I should keep my primary care appointment? The best way to know if you should keep or postpone your doctor’s appointment is to call your provider’s office, as this varies on a case by case basis. Make sure to let your doctor know if you have any health concerns that increase your risk of becoming seriously ill from COVID-19. Your doctor may also offer additional options, such as virtual visits or a phone call, so that you can get care from the safety of your home.
What precautions can I take when visiting my primary care doctor? Before you head to your doctor’s office, there are a few things you can do to prepare for your visit. First, call the clinic or check its website to find out some information about what to expect during your visit. You may want to ask about whether or not masks are required by staff and visitors, as well as the clinic’s cleaning protocols and sanitizing measures for exam rooms, waiting areas, restrooms, elevators and other frequently touched surfaces. It’s also a good idea to ask about social distancing practices at the clinic, if there are limits on the number of people who can be in the clinic at one time, and for information about screening protocols and temperature checks. If you feel that the clinic isn’t using proper safety protocols, you might want to see if there are video or telemedicine appointment options. Let staff or your doctor know if you have any COVID-19 symptoms, such as fever, cough and shortness of breath, as you may be given specific instructions regarding your visit.
Once at the doctor’s office or clinic, wear a cloth face mask, which most clinics are already requiring during the pandemic. If you don't have one, you can ask your clinic if they may be able to provide you with one. Before or after touching any surfaces in public areas, such as in the waiting area, wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or use hand sanitizer with 60% alcohol. If possible, avoid touching your face, especially your eyes, nose and mouth. Make sure to cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue or your elbow, and throw away the tissue and when wearing a mask, cough or sneeze into the mask.
Try to keep a distance of about 6 feet (2 meters) from others at the clinic, including when you're in line and in the waiting area. Look for signs or markings on the floor which some clinics provide to help visitors maintain physical distancing. Move away from crowded parts of the clinic if possible.
Avoid contact with frequently touched surfaces, like doorknobs, elevator buttons and touchpads. Even though most clinics will clean these surfaces regularly, there's still the chance they have germs on them. Consider wearing gloves or using a tissue to open doors and press elevator buttons. When it's time to check out, consider using a mobile payment system or other type of touchless payment. If that's not an option, avoid cash and use credit cards or checks, and then use hand sanitizer. When you get home, wash your hands well with soap and water.
Should I hold off getting my child vaccinated during the pandemic? It’s essential to keep up with wellness visits for your child during the COVID-19 pandemic, including immunizations. If you’re wondering what visits are essential for you and your child, feel free to contact your provider’s office with your questions, and see if which, if any, visits can be conducted by phone or other means. It’s natural to feel fearful about visiting your doctor’s office in the midst of the global pandemic, but it is possible to remember that you can - and in some cases, should - get the care you need while taking the necessary precautions to ensure you and your family’s continued safety.