When Is It Safe to See the Doctor?

When the COVID19 pandemic struck the United States and closed all non-essential businesses, the medical world was thrust into turmoil. Suddenly, visiting your doctor was considered unsafe. Emergency room visits and hospital admissions plummeted in regions that were not COVID19 hot spots. Clinic volumes dropped and physicians grappled to navigate an upended healthcare system. Medicare shifted its policy toward telemedicine care for both COVID19 and non-COVID19-related concerns. In response, healthcare systems drastically changed their protocols related to triaging, scheduling, documentation, and billing. In our primary care practice, telemedicine became the default visit type for both acute and chronic care issues to mitigate the COVID19 spread and shelter our high-risk patients. Yet, we must take heed of the psychological stress to patients. Every visit conversion to telemedicine has the potential to send the message: “it is not safe to visit your doctor.” Such psychologic fear may drive patients to delay care for acute complaints and uncontrolled chronic diseases, further worsening morbidity and mortality during COVD19.1 The reality is that COVID19 is here to stay. We, clinicians, must now determine the appropriate use of telemedicine for acute and chronic care management during a public health crisis. We must now partner with our public health experts to refine guidelines and procedures to ensure the safety of face-to-face visits. Inevitably, our patients will ask us, “Should I come to clinic or stay safe at home?”

 

Goede, D.L., Hagen, M.G., Meenrajan, S., Lo, M.C.  (2020) When Is It Safe to See the Doctor? J GEN INTERN MED doi: 10.1007/s11606-020-06034-3