How to safely access non-emergency and routine medical care during the COVID-19 pandemic
- Although seeking medical care is an exception to stay-at-home orders, you may be wondering if it’s necessary to visit your doctor’s office for non-emergency or routine care.
- You should call your doctor’s office if you’re experiencing a minor illness or injury, or if you aren’t sure whether you need to come in for a routine appointment.
- Depending on your condition, your doctor’s office will provide recommendations for home care, reschedule your appointment, schedule an in-person visit, schedule a Virtual Visit, or direct you to an appropriate facility for further treatment.
- If you need to visit the doctor’s office in person, practicing proper hand hygiene, following social distancing recommendations, and wearing a cloth face covering can help you stay safe.
Leaving home to seek medical care is an essential, life-sustaining exception to stay-at-home orders issued to slow the spread of the new coronavirus, COVID-19. However, if you need non-emergency treatment for a health condition or illness that is unrelated to COVID-19 — or if you have an appointment for routine or follow-up medical care — you may be wondering if it’s necessary to visit your doctor’s office during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Here’s how you can figure out if you need to keep your medical appointment and what you can do to stay safe while getting the care you need.
What should I do if I am experiencing a minor illness or injury?
If you have a minor illness or injury, you should call your doctor’s office to ask what the next steps should be for your care. Examples of minor illnesses are colds, sore throats, gastrointestinal viruses, or sinus infections. Minor injuries include small cuts or burns, sprains, and strains.
You should also call your doctor’s office if you think you may be experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, which may include fever, cough, shortness of breath, or fatigue.
Depending on your condition and symptoms, your doctor’s office will provide recommendations for home care, schedule an in-person appointment, schedule a Virtual Visit, or direct you to an appropriate facility for further treatment.
More serious conditions, such as allergic reactions or broken bones, can be treated at an urgent care facility or the emergency department. If you are experiencing life-threatening symptoms, you should call 911 or go to your hospital’s emergency department.
Learn more: Don’t Delay Emergency Care During COVID-19
How do I know if I need to keep my routine medical appointment?
Although some routine or follow-up medical appointments are necessary for your continued health, others can be safely postponed. If you have questions about whether you should go to your doctor’s appointment, the best thing to do is call your doctor’s office. You should let your doctor know if you have any health conditions that increase your risk of becoming seriously ill from COVID-19.
Your doctor will let you know if you need to be seen in the office, or if you can safely reschedule your appointment. Your doctor may also offer additional options, such as Virtual Visits or a phone call, which allow you to safely and securely access healthcare services from home.
What is a Virtual Visit?
A Virtual Visit allows you to quickly, safely, and conveniently see your doctor using a mobile device or computer that’s connected to the internet. You and your doctor will be able to see and hear each other through a secure virtual video connection. If you are an existing patient, your doctor will also have access to your electronic medical record.
Nuvance Health launched Virtual Visits so primary care physicians can screen patients remotely for possible COVID-19 infections, and also continue to safely see patients with other health concerns including colds, viruses, fevers, chronic conditions — such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol — medication questions, new symptoms, and common illnesses. Behavioral health consultations are also available through Nuvance Health Virtual Visits, as are annual wellness visits to address health risks in the elderly.
During your Virtual Visit, your doctor will ask questions about your condition, conduct a visual exam, provide a diagnosis, make recommendations for additional care. If necessary, your doctor can send prescriptions to your pharmacy or order follow-up testing.
If I need to go to the doctor’s office in person, what steps can I take to reduce my risk of COVID-19 infection?
Hospitals and medical offices are taking appropriate precautions to reduce the chances of COVID-19 transmission. Precautions may include:
- Wearing personal protective equipment (PPE)
- Cleaning and disinfecting surfaces and frequently touched items
- Practicing healthy hand hygiene
- Asking health, exposure to COVID-19, and travel questions during check-in
- Minimizing physical contact
- Following social distancing guidelines
You can also take steps to reduce your risk of getting COVID-19 when you go to your doctor’s office. Here are a few suggestions to help you stay safe:
- Wear a cloth face covering: The CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings to slow the spread of COVID-19. The cloth face coverings recommended are not surgical masks or N95 respirators. These are critical supplies that should be reserved for healthcare workers and other medical first responders. Visit gov/coronavirus for more information about cloth face coverings.
- Follow social distancing recommendations: Avoid sitting within six feet of other patients in the waiting room and do your best to minimize physical contact with your doctor and staff.
- Practice proper hygiene: Wash your hands frequently with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds at a time. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol. As much as possible, avoid touching things such as doorknobs, elevator buttons, and credit card machines. Also, avoid touching your face, eyes, nose, and mouth.
The bottom line: If you need non-emergency medical care during the COVID-19 pandemic, you should call your doctor’s office to find out what steps you should take to get the care you need. Instead of an in-person visit, your doctor may recommend rescheduling a routine appointment, setting up a Virtual Visit, or discussing your condition over the phone. If you need to visit the doctor’s office in person, taking simple precautions can help you stay safe.
Nuvance Health Virtual Visits are available at Health Quest Medical Practice, Western Connecticut Medical Group, and The Heart Center. New and existing patients can access Virtual Visits. For more information, to schedule an appointment, or to find a healthcare clinician, visit nuvancehealth.org/virtualvisits.
Nuvance Health is keeping the communities informed on our website at nuvancehealth.org/coronavirus, and on social media @NuvanceHealth, or search for your hospital’s name.
The observations and information in this article are for educational purposes only. This is not medical advice and does not replace the advice of your healthcare clinician. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, dial 911 or go to your hospital’s emergency department.