As the weeks have turned into months of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, a particular challenge for many seniors has involved decisions about routine medical care and office visits. For many of our elderly loved ones, chronic illness has a significant impact on one’s quality of life, and close attention and evaluation by a health care provider is an important part of optimizing his or her health.
While the prevalence of COVID-19 varies across the country, there are several important principles to discuss when it comes to the topic of visiting your health care provider for an office visit, imaging study, lab test, etc.
1. Discuss Your Health Management with Your Physician
It is important to reach out to your doctor’s office by telephone to discuss the best way to manage your health conditions. Each individual has a unique circumstance, and a one-size-fits-all approach should be avoided. Many providers have switched to telehealth visits during the pandemic, performing evaluations over the phone or through video conferencing. As some offices across the country re-open, ask your physician what options are available for visits. Some may continue to provide telehealth, and this may be a viable option for certain individuals. However, depending on several factors including the need for an in-person physical exam, your doctor may suggest that you come to the office in person. The important point here is that you have the conversation and that your unique health circumstances are considered.
2. Consider the Risk
Currently, there is no way to completely eliminate the risk related to COVID-19 infection. However, it is important to be aware of what risk you may be taking by venturing out. If case numbers in your area are low, the risk to your health is much lower compared to someone living in an outbreak area. Because case rates change over time, individual risk also changes. Below is a useful calculator, based on the best available data, that can provide an up-to-date risk assessment based on your location and group size. The best way to prevent COVID-19 infection is to avoid being exposed to the virus. After you determine your personal level of comfort, be sure to check out #3 for necessary precautions.
3. Take Necessary Precautions
After considering the risk, it is important to consider the necessary precautions for protecting yourself from possible infection. Health care offices across the nation have implemented new policies, which may include spacing out chairs in waiting rooms, spacing out appointment times, deep cleaning procedures, etc. Along with this, it is important to stay vigilant and remember personal habits that can protect your health. You are probably familiar with these, but to summarize some important recommendations from the CDC:
- Wash your hands often, with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
- Use hand sanitizer with at least than 60% alcohol
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a face covering when around others, especially indoors.
- Maintain a social distance of 6 feet between others, where possible.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces (e.g. tables, doorknob, phones, faucets, etc)
4. Don’t Ignore Warning Signs
Lastly, it is important to note that just because a once in a lifetime pandemic has disrupted much of ordinary life as we know it, this doesn’t mean that many seniors won’t continue to deal with other serious, even life-threatening health conditions. Many healthcare workers have heard stories about someone experiencing serious symptoms but who put-off going to the Emergency Room because they were worried about being infected with COVID-19. While this is a legitimate concern and you should absolutely take the above precautions within the walls of a hospital, it is imperative to seek appropriate medical care when necessary. Don’t put off that new-onset chest pain, shortness of breath, or sudden right arm weakness. If you’re worried that it could be serious, seek medical care. Hospitals across the nation are equipped to continue providing routine health care even as areas of our country fight outbreaks related to the pandemic.
Have more questions? Talk with one of our Preferred Care at Home locations to learn about our COVID-19 protocols, and how our caregivers are providing safe and compassionate in-home care, including accompanying individuals to medical visits.
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