You've got your mask, your hand sanitizer, and your six-foot queuing protocol down pat, but you've had a migraine for three straight months, and think it's time to get your GP involved. But is it safe to go to the doctor, dentist, or gynecologist right now? Coronavirus isn't the only health issue in the world right now, and you still need to keep up with your health checks and any other medical issues that may have come up in quarantine.
"As states start to ease restrictions during the COVID-19 crisis, we’ve seen more and more healthcare offices opening for non-urgent visits," Dr. Robert Quigley M.D., regional medical director for medical security firm International SOS, tells Bustle. "Despite the reopening of facilities, there are still preventive measures that should be implemented prior to and during a medical appointment during the pandemic."
If your area is relatively OK in terms of case count, it might be time to reschedule the annual check-ups you canceled in March. "Unless you are in an area with a high number of COVID-19 cases, do not put off preventative care," Dr. Teresa Bartlett M.D., senior medical officer at claims organization Sedgwick, tells Bustle. "Make every effort to get the yearly flu vaccine too." She says this is particularly important if you have a compromised immune system.
A lot of medical offices are exploring telehealth right now, where your doctor will conduct consultations and offer treatment via video link or phone. If that's not going to cut it for your medical issue, or you need a physical examination or dental cleaning, you can still have a safe doctor's visit without waiting until a coronavirus vaccine is available.
How To Safely Go To The Doctor During The Pandemic
Going to the doctor might seem scary right now, but laying the groundwork first will help.
"It is always important to call ahead to your doctor office to make an appointment and learn what safety requirements they have in place," Dr. Bartlett says. The staff will determine whether your issue can be treated remotely, but if it can't, a face-to-face visit is in the cards.
"If an in-person visit is required, clinics will typically pre-screen you with questions about potential COVID symptoms, as well as take your temperature," Dr. Bartlett says. "Additionally, you will be asked to wear a mask and follow the social distancing policies that have been put in place." Dr. Quigley recommends asking a lot of questions, or looking at your doctor's website to check their policies. He suggests looking at the specifics of their mask requirements, what forms you can fill in before you arrive, if they're limiting the number of people seen at one time, and what their cleaning protocols are.
"While at the doctor, keep your mask on at all times, and wash your hands or use hand sanitizer before and after touching any surfaces in public areas," Dr. Quigley says. Avoid touching your face, cough or sneeze into your elbow or tissue, and use contactless payment methods.
This goes for any doctor's visit, but if you're experiencing any possible symptoms of COVID-19, you need to let them know immediately. Your GP can either get you tested or monitor your symptoms remotely.
How To Safely Go To The Dentist During The Pandemic
"The best way a patient can stay safe when visiting the dentist is by taking precautions and protocols seriously and following the new policies and procedures dental offices established," Dr. Arwinder Judge D.D.S., chief clinical officer at Aspen Dental Management, tells Bustle. "Infectious disease protocol is not new for dentistry." Set aside time to chat to the dental staff over the phone or research their new policies online; dental workers are at high risk of contracting COVID-19, according to the CDC, so their hygiene protocols are likely to be strict. Depending on your state, elective procedure like cleaning or whitening may still be off the table at your local dentist's office.
If your office says you should come in for an in-person appointment, bring a mask, and be prepared to go through symptom screening and a temperature check. Your dentist may also be staggering appointment times and ask for paperwork to be filled in online prior to the appointment, Dr. Judge says. If you're higher-risk for COVID-19, inform the office, and ask for an appointment earlier in the day when the office is less busy. Your dentist may also only accept new patients on specific days of the week.
"Patients are encouraged to arrive on time, not early, to minimize time spent in the waiting room," Dr. Judge says. "If a wait is required, patients should wait outside, typically in their car before an appointment." If you're used to a friend or family member coming with you, bear in mind that they'll likely not be allowed into the room while your appointment takes place, and will have to go through symptom checks and wear a mask as well.
How To Safely Visit The OB-GYN During The Pandemic
Dr. Jacques Mortiz, M.D., an OB-GYN and medical director of healthcare service Tia, says that while your annual exam may be delayed, there are certain issues that do require an in-person gynecological visit, even in a pandemic, including abnormal vaginal bleeding or pain, any masses on your breasts, any discharges, growths or symptoms that haven't gone away, or new pregnancy.
Do your research before you arrive. "Ask your provider’s team before the appointment what their sanitation protocols are," Dr. Mortitz says. Always wear a face mask throughout the exam, and wash your hands thoroughly when you enter the doctor's office. "If at any time you feel uncomfortable or unsafe, let your provider know and collaborate on an alternative pathway to care," he says.
It's not worth neglecting any aspect of your health while the pandemic's going on. Be prepared to be your own advocate, and ask how your doctor, dentist or gynecologist is going to keep you safe.
Dr. Teresa Bartlett M.D.
Dr. Arwinder Judge D.D.S.
Dr. Jacques Moritz M.D.
Dr. Robert Quigley M.D.