Don’t let COVID-19 keep you from necessary care

Wondering if it’s safe to seek out care now? Here are three health care appointments you shouldn’t delay.

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Patricia Kelmar
Director, Health Care Campaigns

Author: Patricia Kelmar

Director, Health Care Campaigns

 

Started on staff: 1986-1991; 2020
B.A., magna cum laude, Boston College; J.D., high honors, George Washington University Law School

Patricia directs the health care campaign work for U.S. PIRG and provides support to our state offices for state-based health initiatives. Her prior roles include senior director of health policy with the National Consumers League, senior policy advisor at NJ Health Care Quality Institute, and consumer advocate at NJPIRG. She serves on the board of the Patient and Caregiver Engagement Advisory Group for the National Quality Forum. Patricia enjoys walks along the Potomac and sharing her love of books with her friends and family around the world.

Here’s a thought that’s all too common these days: “I’ve been waiting to see the doctor because of the pandemic. I’m not sure when it will be safe to go.” 

Most of us don’t know the answer, which is probably why a recent Centers for Disease Control (CDC) survey found that as many as 43 percent of adults had delayed medical care in a recent  four week period because of the COVID pandemic. It used to be that cost of care was the major reason why people delayed getting care. But the pandemic has created more reasons for care delays, such as cancelled appointments, cutbacks in transportation options and fear of going to an emergency room. Others cite altruistic desires not to overburden an already-taxed health system. 

But delaying care unnecessarily can be bad for your health if your condition worsens or you put your health at greater risk. Let’s look at a few examples.

Newborn well-child visits

The CDC emphasizes the importance of well-child visits by categorizing them in the same category of highly important health conditions as symptoms of stroke or heart attack. Delaying newborn check-ups are “highly likely to result in patient harm.” The first visit is recommended between 24 to 48 hours of being discharged from the hospital, and again at two weeks. Additional visits are recommended at 1, 2, 4, 6, 9 and 12 months of age. Providers closely track infants’ growth and development and give immunizations. Early identification of any abnormalities can often be key to fixing problems which could become permanent or worsen. And providers also assess maternal health and identify any additional needs for services, such as nutrition or mental health support. 

Parents can call in advance to hear how their pediatrician’s office is operating to ensure sick and healthy patients are separated and other systems are in place to ensure a safe visit.

Pediatric immunizations and routine check ups

Some parents are concerned about potentially exposing their children to COVID-19 during well child visits, and as a result may delay care. The well-visit is the key time to measure growth and development and to provide important vaccines to prevent illnesses such as measles, whooping cough (pertussis) and influenza. Some vaccines require carefully timed boosters to ensure the vaccine’s effectiveness in protecting children. The CDC warns that deferral of pediatric vaccines may result in patient harm. It is so important, in fact, that the CDC recommends that health services continue to offer pediatric immunizations, prioritizing at-risk populations, even in communities that have “substantial community transmission.” Being up to date on vaccines is crucial so children are not vulnerable to vaccine-preventable diseases when social distancing requirements are relaxed and children return to schools and activities. 

Parents should ask their health care providers what extra precautions they are taking to separate healthy patients from those who may be sick.

Mental health services

During June 2020, a study found that 40 percent of U.S. adults reported struggling with mental health or substance use. Of those reporting suicide ideation, it was found significantly higher among those aged 18 to 24 years, minority racial/ethnic groups and unpaid caregivers of adults and essential workers. Between the fear of contracting COVID and the subsequent treatment and the added social isolation of quarantine, it is not surprising that anxiety has risen and mental health is a struggle for many. The impact of the overall stress can be felt by children and adults. It's clearly having a serious effect on young adults

Delaying care for mental health or addiction treatment can be deadly. Calling 9-1-1 or suicide prevention hotlines can offer immediate help for emergency situations. And many therapists are offering counseling services through telehealth appointments. The SAMHSA hotline can help with referrals in both Spanish and English. There are many resources on line, including the CDC resources for talking with children about COVID-19

These are just a few examples of care that you should not delay. There are more. If you still are having trouble thinking of walking into a doctor’s office for treatment, remember there may be options.

Alternatives to Visiting a Provider’s Office/Clinic

Telehealth services by phone or video can be a viable alternative to an in-person appointment. In the wake of the pandemic, more providers are offering telehealth appointments, and more insurance companies are covering these services. This can be a useful option for those whose concerns can be either handled by phone or video, or to allow the provider an opportunity to evaluate whether an in-office appointment is necessary. 

Delaying care can mean health problems get worse which could ultimately mean hospitalization—exactly the place you don’t want to end up during a pandemic. Find out if your health care provider is providing virtual visits by calling to make an appointment. If your provider recommends an in-person visit, ask if they are following the American Psychiatric Association recommendations - waiting rooms should be redesigned to allow for social distancing, all patients should have their temperature checked prior to treatment, office windows should be kept open when practicable, and masks should be required at all times.

 

Photo of chart and stethoscope credit: wp paarz

Patricia Kelmar
Director, Health Care Campaigns

Author: Patricia Kelmar

Director, Health Care Campaigns

 

Started on staff: 1986-1991; 2020
B.A., magna cum laude, Boston College; J.D., high honors, George Washington University Law School

Patricia directs the health care campaign work for U.S. PIRG and provides support to our state offices for state-based health initiatives. Her prior roles include senior director of health policy with the National Consumers League, senior policy advisor at NJ Health Care Quality Institute, and consumer advocate at NJPIRG. She serves on the board of the Patient and Caregiver Engagement Advisory Group for the National Quality Forum. Patricia enjoys walks along the Potomac and sharing her love of books with her friends and family around the world.