If You’re Still Apprehensive About Visiting Your Doctor, Don’t Be
There has been a precipitous drop in medical visits and preventive testing since shelter-in-place orders went into effect in March, even though many doctor’s offices, urgent care centers and hospitals are still open. Since early April there has been a 49 percent decrease in adult primary care visits compared to the period immediately before orders were announced, according to the Commonwealth Fund.
The change makes sense: For a while, doctors may not have been seeing many walk-ins and cancelled some wellness visits, many hospitals weren’t performing elective or non-essential surgeries, and specialists cancelled visits out of an abundance of caution. Many at-risk patients were scared to go to the doctor.
But doctor visits are important, especially the ones that help prevent disease and keep chronic conditions from getting out of control – regardless of a shut down. For example, patients managing chronic conditions like heart disease and type 2 diabetes who are skipping doctor visits are missing out on getting tests that tell them how their condition is being managed. A report out in late April showed that diagnostic tests like lipid panels and blood sugar screenings were down by as much as 68 percent nationwide – and even more in coronavirus hotspots like New York and New Jersey.
That means doctors are finding fewer people at risk for heart attack and stroke. They’re also diagnosing fewer people with pre-diabetes, a condition of elevated blood glucose that affects tens of millions of Americans and if left untreated, can progress to full blown type 2 diabetes. And they’re unable to tell if patients who already have a chronic illness are at risk of suffering complications.
Should I Visit My Primary Care Doctor for a Routine Checkup?
Even if you don’t have a chronic condition, you still need your doctor — and now more than ever. Consider anxiety and stress, which can build up and wreck your health. Living through a pandemic and in quasi-quarantine conditions has certainly raised stress levels. Nearly half of Americans were anxious about contracting COVID-19; 40 percent were concerned about becoming seriously ill or dying from it; and 62 percent were nervous about the possibility of family and loved ones getting coronavirus, according to a poll conducted by the American Psychiatric Association. And of course, fears of running out of food, medicine, money and supplies were stressful.
While some stress may be part of life, it wreaks havoc on our health. Between 75 and 90 percent of visits to primary care doctors are for stress-related issues. Stress is a common cause of insomnia, forgetfulness, obesity, high blood pressure and excessive smoking and drinking. It also weakens the immune system, raising your risk for catching a virus and exacerbating chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease (the leading cause of death in the United States), cerebrovascular disease (cause of strokes), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and cancer.
Since the coronavirus pandemic began, there has been a spike in the number of at home deaths in major cities, some of which researchers think is COVID-19 and some of which is unrelated but a result of patients being afraid to see their doctor or go to the emergency room. The American Heart Association published a letter last month encouraging people to call 9-1-1 even if they were worried about COVID-19. “While ongoing research may uncover other underlying reasons for decreasing numbers of heart attack and stroke patients in hospitals, the prevailing theory is that people just aren’t calling 9-1-1.”
The reality: Your primary care doctor wants to hear from you. They want to work with you to help control your chronic illnesses and treat other conditions that may have arisen during the pandemic, like stress-induced illness. And they want to make sure you’re staying healthy.
Whether the office you normally go to is open (or has reopened) for regular business or just performing telemedicine visits, give them a call if you’re not feeling well. If you haven’t had a physical or wellness visit in a while, many primary care doctors are able to perform some of those services via telemedicine. Many MDVIP-affiliated physicians are performing appointments over the phone or through video chat, while seeing patients in the office for visits that require an in-person examination. During normal circumstances, MDVIP-affiliated doctors are available 24/7 by phone and are used to handling urgent requests.
If you need labs, your doctor may not draw blood in the office during the pandemic, but Quest and Labcorp, two of the biggest providers of lab tests in the country, have set up social distancing procedures to help do routine blood tests. Quest, for example, allows patients to wait in their car until they’re texted for an appointment to avoid crowded waiting rooms.
If you’re not feeling well or need a checkup, call your primary care doctor. If you don’t have one or can’t get in touch with yours, consider partnering with MDVIP. MDVIP-affiliated physicians have the time and tools to help you manage your health. Find a physician near you and begin your partnership in health »