One “side effect” of COVID-19 has been a dramatic drop in the number of people seeking care for medical conditions unrelated to the virus, including both routine care for chronic conditions (like diabetes, high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, or depression) and emergencies like possible heart attacks, strokes, and seizures. Part of the reason for the decrease was that hospitals and health care facilities were making room for the anticipated surge of COVID-19 patients, but many people simply avoided all health care facilities for fear of catching the virus and because they did not want to be separated from loved ones due to visitor restrictions.
Health care providers are concerned that there will be surge in demand as people who deferred care have become sicker during the shutdown or missed opportunities to handle a problem at an early, treatable stage.
As a patient advocate, I encourage people with chronic conditions to be proactive and contact their health care providers NOW to schedule an appointment, especially if your condition has changed or you have new symptoms. Don’t wait for them to contact you; it could take a long time for some practices to reschedule all patients.
If your condition has changed or you have new symptoms, let the office know and ask for an urgent appointment. It’s ok be insistent.
Here are some suggestions if you’re having trouble getting an appointment:
• If your health care provider has a patient portal or other on-line access, use it! That may be the best way to get on their calendar.
• If your regular health care provider isn’t available, ask to see whoever in the practice has the first opening. That provider should have access to your health care records and can talk with your regular provider if needed.
• Talk with the practice or office manager, who may be able to help get you scheduled and should know if the staff isn’t being responsive.
• If you still can’t get through, send your health care provider a short letter describing why you need an appointment and the efforts you’ve made to contact them. You can drop it off at the office or fax it instead of waiting for the mail.
• Some urgent care centers affiliated with a health care system, like Dignity or Kaiser, may be able to access your health care records if you usually see a provider in that system.
If you are hesitant about going to a health care facility because of COVID-19, ask for a telehealth appointment. Many more health care providers are offering them now than before the pandemic. Some use an app or other system you’ll have to download, but many will schedule a video call using Zoom or another conference service or simply do the appointment by phone. (See Part 2 of this series for tips on preparing for a telehealth appointment.)
If you have to go to any office, laboratory or other health care facility, call ahead to find out what arrangements they have made for protecting patients. Many facilities screen patients (taking their temperature and asking about symptoms like cough or loss of smell) and have set up separate areas for people who may be affected by COVID-19. Be prepared to follow signs to areas you may not have seen before and allow extra time to get through any new procedures.
Finally, if you have symptoms that indicate a health care emergency, CALL 911 or GO TO THE EMERGENCY ROOM. Although COVID-19 is still a threat, most health care facilities are prepared to protect patients while providing care.
Linda Beck, BCPA
Square One Elder and Health Advocacy