With California’s shelter-in-place order lifted and Coachella Valley businesses reopening, we’re now making daily decisions about which activities we’re comfortable returning to and which may not be worth the risk. Going out to dinner? Getting a haircut? Taking a hike? While those outings may require some pro-and-con-weighing, one that shouldn’t is obtaining medical care, experts say.
“COVID is real and we still need to do things to prevent it — washing hands, wearing masks — but at the same time, people must seek out the healthcare that they need,” says Dr. Randall McCafferty, a neurosurgeon at Desert Regional Medical Center. “For individuals who continue to have healthcare needs, delaying that care is not a good practice for the health and welfare of the community.”
Visiting a medical office or hospital seems scary these days. Many patients postponed appointments and elective surgeries during the shutdown and are wary about rescheduling them, fearing they might come into contact with the virus. However, new safety procedures and protocols are making medical facilities safer than ever.
“Early on, we put a pause on business-as-usual things and only saw urgent medical conditions in the clinics and urgent or emergent surgeries in the OR,” says Dr. Alan Williamson, vice president of medical affairs and chief medical officer at Eisenhower Health in Rancho Mirage. “We took a step back and said, ‘Let’s put things on hold and not see routine patients in the office until we understand a little bit more about what the risks are and what we needed to do to make it as safe as possible for the patients as well as the staff.’”
“If you’re delaying a simple cancer screening, you could delay finding something for six months and the outcome can be very different than if that cancer was found four or five months earlier.”
Now that regular office visits, elective surgeries, and preventative screenings have resumed, it’s vital to continue with medical care. If you’re uncertain about whether a visit is necessary, reach out to your provider, who can help you make the best decision for your situation. In some cases, telemedicine (a virtual visit) may suffice, but a professional should make that decision.
“If you have concerns, ask questions and keep the communication going,” says Dr. Saeed Eskandari, an internist at JFK Memorial Hospital. “If you have reservations about going into a doctor’s office or coming to the ER, call one of your providers. If you can’t find anyone to talk to and you’re sick, you need to come in sooner rather than later … to hopefully help decrease the risk and complications. Don’t try to doctor yourself or self-diagnose.”
ER visits at all three major Coachella Valley hospitals significantly dipped during the coronavirus shutdown, which sometimes equated to serious consequences.
“That was one of the most worrisome things we saw,” Williamson says. “It was quite dramatic. Patients who were coming in were definitely much sicker. We are seeing people coming back to the emergency room, but there’s still some lingering sense out there that it’s best to avoid doing any of this. Some of it is a natural reaction to, ‘Well I’m being told on the news, by the governor, by everyone that I need to stay home.”
Medical care has always been deemed essential during shelter-in-place orders, and with new safety precautions in place, you can feel comfortable making a trip to the ER if it’s necessary. You’ll be screened before you go inside. Hospitals are identifying potential carriers of the coronavirus, providing separate entrances and sequestered units for those with symptoms, administering rapid testing when warranted, and ensuring ample personal protective equipment (PPE) for staff.
The enhanced procedures extend right into the operating room. “We have a protocol by which a patient is screened at seven days out, three days out, and the morning of surgery,” McCafferty says. “There are enhanced procedures, including greater use of face shields and N95 masks.”
While holding off on a non-urgent trip to the doctor might be advised for an elderly patient with multiple comorbidities depending on the situation, keeping up with medical appointments is wise for most of us right now.
“If you’re delaying a simple cancer screening, you could delay finding something for six months and the outcome can be very different than if that cancer was found four or five months earlier,” McCafferty intones.
And the same goes for office visits. “I’m an internal medicine doctor so I feel that preventative medicine is the best way to go,” Eskandari says. “I’m always going to advise that. I’m seeing cardiac patients coming in with congestive heart failure, heart attacks because they ran out of their meds or they didn’t think about taking them. A lot of times, they just haven’t had any advice from a healthcare provider in a few months.”