When my kids were small, they tumbled through life. Sure, I cringed each time they toppled over, skinned a knee or bonked a head but I knew every small injury would lead to greater skill-mastery or emotional development. Of course, I never let them do anything seriously dangerous – we kept the knives safely stowed and required helmets during bike rides. This is how I view the state’s move from “stay at home” to “safer at home.” We can’t remain in strict quarantine forever but we should certainly take reasonable precautions as we venture out into society.
Given the COVID-19 threat in the United States – and worldwide – many typical daily activities have been markedly altered. Restaurants serve curbside, retail chains have moved to delivery-only models and routine healthcare visits have been postponed.
And with stay-at-home orders easing, preventative doctor visits may resume in the near future. While this change brings improved healthcare to many, recommended precautions should be observed in order to protect your health and the health of the staff and community. In order to successfully resume many day-to-day activities, it’s essential that we strap on the bicycle helmet (or facial covering, as the case may be).
You likely have many questions about doctors visits during COVID-19:
“How do I know which visits are essential and which should wait?”
“What should my doctor be doing to minimize the spread of COVID-19?”
“What questions should I ask my doctor before attending an appointment?”
While I can’t claim to have all the answers – and much is still unknown – my current work as Chief Healthcare Officer at a Federally Qualified Healthcare Center in Colorado provides me with daily experience and timely insight as the healthcare industry slowly rolls back COVID-19 restrictions in a safe and thoughtful manner.
How do I know which visits are essential and which should wait?
While many situations don’t fall into a cut-and-dry category, well-checks are still being postponed in many US regions. That said, the past several weeks have offered many healthcare facilities a crash course in telehealth services. Virtual visits have now become a mainstay in many offices. In fact, telehealth is now the default for countless physicians when in-person care is not needed. That means that if you have a prescription question, a question about a visible ailment (like a rash) or just aren’t sure if you should make an in-person appointment or not, a virtual visit is your safest first step.
What should my doctor be doing to minimize the spread of COVID-19?
While every region differs in the precautions required to minimize the spread of COVID-19, there are several best-practices that should be maintained.
- The virtual waiting room – In order to minimize patient-to-patient contact, many physicians are moving to a virtual waiting room model. If your physician utilizes this technique, you’ll be asked to wait in your car when you arrive at the office. You’ll receive a call or text when the doctor is ready to see you.
- A decluttered waiting room – Even if you won’t spend much time in the waiting room, you may notice that magazines and toys have been removed. This reduces the additional temptation to touch things.
- Door screening procedures – Door screening should apply to both staff and patients at a healthcare office. While each professional approaches door screening differently, a temperature check and symptom questionnaire are common inclusions.
- Ramped-up disinfecting procedures – The staff at your doctor’s office should clean all surfaces in each patient room following every visit. Likewise, all traffic-heavy areas should be disinfected frequently throughout the day.
- Personal protective equipment (PPE) – Everyone working at your doctor’s office should be wearing a mask and gloves. You should also be wearing a facial covering during your visit – and anytime you venture into a public space.
- Frequent handwashing – Healthcare professionals should be washing their hands thoroughly after each patient visit (this is nothing new to healthcare workers). Patients should also wash hands for 20-30 seconds, with soap and water following their visit and again upon returning home.
- Telehealth, whenever possible – If you don’t need to go into the office, your physician should schedule a virtual appointment instead.
What questions should I ask my doctor before attending an appointment?
During this uncertain time, you are your own best advocate for protecting yourself and those around you. Consider calling your doctor’s office before your appointment to clear up any concerns you may have.
- Can all or part of this appointment be conducted over the phone or on video call?
By avoiding an in-person visit altogether, you eliminate your chance of catching or spreading COVID-19. Almost as importantly, minimizing your time in the office can reduce your chances of catching or spreading the disease. Consider a new patient visit where you might spend part of an hour chatting with your doctor about your medical history. Taking care of this step via remote communication can minimize your potential exposure.
- Do you think this appointment can be rescheduled?
Similar to the question above, the answer may allow you to avoid unnecessary exposure altogether.
- What steps does your office take to prevent the spread of COVID-19?
This answer will provide you with a wealth of information. If the office forgoes one or more of the precautions listed above, it may be worth asking why.
Doctors visits during COVID-19
As we try to strike the right balance between reopening our economies and maintaining the safety and health of our communities, remember to continue social distancing routines as much as possible, wear a facial covering whenever in public and wash your hands thoroughly and frequently.
While anecdotal, I can tell you that these very precautions have helped to protect the teams working at my clinics. We’ve tested any staff showing symptoms for COVID-19 – even the ones servicing the drive-through COVID-19 testing, which is open to the public. We have yet to see widespread COVID infection even when staff have experienced COVID through exposure and illness when outside of work. This leads me to believe that the cautionary measures we’ve followed since early March have worked. Not only have we protected ourselves, we’ve helped protect the hundreds of community members we’ve served since that time.
In order to continue to flatten the curve while slowly resuming more day-to-day activities, we must collectively approach the situation with caution. Think of it as a child learning to walk – it’s OK if they trip and fall (you can’t put them in a bubble), but it’s probably wise to keep that baby gate closed at the top of the stairs. Let’s take the same approach to carefully reopening our economies and the essential services within them, while avoiding unnecessary risk. Let’s keep ourselves, our loved ones and our communities safe.
Meet Dr. Savita Ginde
Dr. Savita Ginde is an advocate and thought leader for reproductive health and served as Chief Medical Officer of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains for over 13 years. And, until very recently, she served as the Chief Healthcare Officer for STRIDE Community Health Center where she oversaw all of STRIDE’s healthcare services and led their COVID-19 vaccination efforts.