Should I Be Going to the Doctor? What to Do About Postponed Care
Find out which medical appointments should be scheduled and which ones can still be delayed during the pandemic.
By Dr. Don Liss, Vice President & Chief Medical Officer
Despite the country’s most widespread health crisis in decades, many doctors’ offices remain empty these days. On one hand, private practices and clinics had to restrict preventive care visits to limit the risk of COVID-19 exposure to patients and staff. On the other, patients have decided to skip routine physicals and screenings all on their own.
A Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that 48 percent of Americans said they or a family member has skipped or delayed medical care because of the pandemic.
Of course, a person’s health can’t just be put on pause. The poll also found that 11 percent of respondents said their conditions grew worse due to delayed care.
Now that medical facilities are opening again for routine care and elective procedures, you may be wondering which appointments should be scheduled and which can be put off a little longer.
It all comes down to the type of care you need. Your doctors, who know your medical history, can help you make the best decisions about your next steps.
Here are some tips about seeking medical care you’ve postponed.
Annual exams: If you have a chronic medical condition like diabetes or high blood pressure, an annual exam is critical for monitoring your overall health. It also gives your doctor the opportunity to take your vital signs or order blood tests. Check with your doctor if an in-person visit is necessary. Telemedicine may also be an option, particularly for people who are generally healthy.
Cancer screenings: According to the American Cancer Society, you need to weigh your risks and benefits before scheduling a screening. If your risk for cancer is high, you need to balance getting the proper diagnosis against any potential complications if you’re infected with COVID-19. If your risk for cancer is low, postponing might still be the best choice. Remember that early detection can save lives, so get your cancer screenings back on track as soon as you feel comfortable doing so. If you have symptoms that could be from cancer, you should talk to your doctor immediately.
Gynecological exams: Regular checkups are typically being delayed until the risks of contracting COVID-19 are lower, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. However, the organization recommends contacting your doctor for the following symptoms:
- Fever or vaginal infection unrelated to COVID-19
- Symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy, including pain
- Problems with recovery after a recent surgery or procedure
- Severe vaginal bleeding
Men’s health: Men die five years younger than women, on average, and at higher rates from nine of the top 10 causes of death. Many factors that contribute to men’s shorter, less healthy lives are preventable. As June is Men’s Health Month, men should consider a check-up when it’s safe to do so to establish baseline measurements for blood pressure, cholesterol, weight, and PSA (a screening test for prostate cancer risk) so dangerous conditions can be caught early when they’re more treatable.
Dental visits: Regular exams, cleanings, x-rays and other routine appointments can be delayed if your mouth is healthy, says the American Dental Association. But, if you are experiencing swelling or bleeding, a broken tooth, lost or broken crowns, problems with dentures or other urgent concerns, it’s time to see the dentist.
Eye exams: According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology routine eye exams can be delayed if you aren’t experiencing any problems with your vision. However, eye appointments may be necessary if you have:
- Macular degeneration or diabetic retinopathy treated with eye injections
- Changes in vision such as blurry, wavy or blank spots or a lot of new floaters or flashes
- Eye injuries
- Vision loss
- Eye pain, headache, red eye, nausea and vomiting
Dermatologist appointments: Your dermatologist may be able to treat new concerns or chronic conditions through telemedicine. Rashes, acne, eczema, psoriasis and suspicious spots or moles are good candidates for a virtual visit, says the American Academy of Dermatology. In addition, if you can’t get to an in-office visit, self-exams using the ABCDE method can be an effective tool to manage anxiety about your skin.
How to stay as safe as possible at an in-person visit
Many doctor’s offices and health systems are adopting precautions to keep patients safe. If you need to have an in-person visit, you may want to ask, for example, how your doctor is ensuring social distancing in waiting rooms or separating patients with COVID-19 symptoms.
Also, make sure to have a plan before you go – confirming everything from lab work to where you should park. And if you have a fever, a cough or other signs of an upper respiratory illness, switching to a telemedicine visit is your best option.
Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey members have access to a wide range of virtual care options to take care of both their physical and mental health. Find telemedicine services or a local treatment provider with the Doctor/Hospital finder.