Going Back to the Doctor? Here’s What to Expect

We can’t put off medical care forever. As the pandemic hit, many hospitals and clinics shut down to care only for COVID-19 patients and to stop the spread of the virus. Now patients are reluctant to go back. But doctors and hospitals are ready to get back to business.

Their motives are probably mixed. All of the other diseases didn’t go on hold just because the SARS-CoV-2 virus showed up, so people need care. Many doctors and other medical personnel probably got into the business in the first place to help people. They want to make sure less of us become needlessly ill or die. But the lack of patients is also starting to hurt their bottom lines. Unless we get back into the clinics and hospitals, docs and hospitals are going to lay off staff and offices will close. Having less doctors around is not a good thing. So, if you have a need, go back.

Here’s what to expect when you return to your doctor’s office or hospital.

  • Doctors and hospitals have stepped up their cleaning procedures. They are limiting patient-to-patient contact by limiting appointments, asking patients to wait outside or in their cars after check-in, spreading out waiting room chairs and removing magazines.
  • To protect the patient and themselves, doctors and other medical staff members may limit physical contact. Your doctor may not shake your hand and may avoid other contact unless absolutely necessary. Doctors may also keep conversation brief, to limit the amount of time each patient spends in the office.
  • Some doctors are offering telehealth visits to reduce in-office contact. Some insurers have waived copays for such visits. To avoid overpaying, check with your insurance before agreeing to a teleconference.
  • When you arrive in the office, a medical staff member may take your temperature to ensure that you are not ill. You may have to answer screening questions about potential exposure, coughing or symptoms of illness, contact with infected persons and recent travel. They may give you a mask, if you don’t have one.
  • For surgery, some facilities will require that you get tested for COVID-19 a few days ahead. You may have to go alone to your surgical appointment.
  • Hospitals treating COVID-19 patients have designated care units to ensure no contact with other patients. Doctors, nurses, and other medical staff in direct contact with COVID-19 patients do not cross back and forth between units.

As a patient, here’s what to do when making a medical visit.

  • Weigh the risk of contracting the coronavirus against the risk of your other health conditions getting worse. Factor your age into the equation: COVID-19 can be particularly damaging in older people.
  • Talk to your doctor in advance to decide whether it’s better to have an in-person visit or a visit by video or telephone. Telemedicine may be worthwhile if you have back pain, a rash or a swollen joint. It can also be useful to discuss test results with your doctor or to have a check up for a chronic condition. Check with your health insurer to see if a telemedicine visit will be covered.
  • If you think you might have COVID-19 (or any other infectious disease), call your doctor before heading to the medical facility.
  • Go alone; many doctor’s offices are trying to limit the number of people in the waiting room. Likewise, be prepared to sit out in your car to wait for your appointment to begin.
  • Inside the medical facility, wear a mask, avoid touching your face and practice social distancing. Use hand sanitizer, especially after touching surfaces like doors, elevator buttons or pens. If possible, pay with a credit card over the phone.
  • If you are going in for surgery, plan in advance how to connect with your family afterward. See if you can bring a cell phone and charger or if the medical personnel instead would rather contact family for you after the procedure.
  • Be prepared to stare at and to listen hard to the doctor. Wearing a mask can limit social cues and how well you hear what your doctor is saying. Eye contact is best in such situations.
  • Be ready to ask your doctor any questions you have. Write out questions in advance if you won’t remember. Remember that you will probably be in the visit alone. Even if your loved one is usually asking all of the questions, now you’ll have to do that yourself.
  • Call or look online to see if there’s a way to send your doctor information about your condition or ask questions in advance so that your doctor can be prepared for your visit.
  • Be ready with short, precise answers to questions the doctor asks: time will be limited, and you have to come out with it. Don’t be long-winded.

Disclaimer: This article does not provide medical advice. Do not take action based solely on this article and always consult with an appropriate healthcare professional. This article is purely for informational purposes.

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