Preventive care: Should you skip checkups during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Depending on where you live and whether cases of COVID-19 are rising, stable, or falling, you may get a reminder from your doctor and dentist that you’re due for a preventive care appointment or a recommended cancer screening. Even in areas of the country where the number of new COVID-19 cases are staying about the same or decreasing, some people are still wary of going to their doctor’s office, even though physicians, dentists, and healthcare facilities are taking special precautions to lower the risk of patients being exposed to the virus.
So, is postponing preventive care an acceptable option? That depends on your specific health situation. Your first step should be to get in touch with your primary care physician and discuss whether waiting for preventive care and screenings is a safe option for you or your family member. For example, while many parts of a pediatric checkup can be performed using telemedicine, immunizations can’t. Depending on your child’s age, your doctor may recommend a quick in-person visit so your child can receive needed immunizations and boosters. And if you’re at an increased risk for cancer due to your family history, a gene mutation, or because you’ve had cancer in the past, your physician may recommend that you stay on schedule for your routine cancer screenings like mammograms, colonoscopies, and skin checks.
If you don’t have any serious health problems or if you have a chronic condition such as diabetes or high blood pressure that’s well managed, your physician may suggest performing the majority of your checkup virtually, then sending you to a lab for any needed blood tests. And if you’ve had your dental checkup and cleaning within the last year and you’re not comfortable going to the dentist yet, you can postpone your appointment.
If, however, you’re experiencing a new symptom, the worsening of a chronic health problem, or an urgent health issue like a breast lump or a broken or infected tooth, you should see your doctor in person as soon as you can get an appointment.
Before your appointment, talk to the doctor or practice manager about what steps they’re taking to lower their patients’ risk of contracting COVID-19. Here are some questions that can help you assess your potential risk of exposure during your visit:
- Do all staff and patients wear masks and other protective equipment as needed at all times when they’re in the doctor’s office?
- Is there a limit on how many people can be in the waiting room at one time and is strict social distancing practiced in the waiting room? Is there an alternative to the waiting room, like waiting in your car and receiving a text or call when it’s your turn to see your healthcare provider?
- Are all staff members being tested for COVID-19, and, if so, how often?
- What is the cleaning and disinfection protocol for the waiting room, exam rooms, and offices?
- Is there a separate waiting area or time of day for patients who are being seen for preventive care versus those who are ill?