31 Jul 2020
Your doctor is waiting — don’t delay your appointment!
Estimated read time: 7 minutes, 53 seconds
Medical and dental offices are reopening, and preventive and protective measures are more important than ever. The numbers show that being in good health makes us less vulnerable to coronavirus and other infections.
A survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 48% of adults had postponed essential medical care because of the pandemic, including diabetes and blood pressure management and preventive tests. For this reason, public health organizations have expressed concerns that delaying medical appointments could result in serious health issues in both the long and short term.
At the same time, medical authorities have noted a sharp drop in the number of patients with non-coronavirus-related emergencies across all regions. Some, like the American College of Emergency Physicians, the American College of Cardiology, and the American Heart Association, have publicly urged anyone who has a health concern or suffers from a chronic condition not to refrain from going to the doctor.
The Risks of Discontinuing Treatment
It’s not just doctor’s appointments that are being postponed. Due to fears of infection, loss of health insurance, or the challenges of getting to a pharmacy, many people have stopped taking their medication for chronic conditions or illnesses that require ongoing management.
People with preexisting health problems, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and cholesterol, among others, are at a higher risk of developing COVID and experiencing complications from the virus. At a time when keeping these conditions under control is more important than ever, however, many are discontinuing their treatment.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), almost half of all Americans take at least one prescription medicine, and one in every four takes three or more medications to treat chronic conditions.
The numbers are similar in other countries. Medication non-adherence was already an issue of concern before the pandemic, but now, the problem has gotten worse.
For decades, studies have shown that 20 to 30% of prescriptions are not refilled. Additionally, around 50% of medications for chronic illnesses are not taken as prescribed, costing our health system millions in treatment for illnesses and complications that could have been prevented or managed.
Anyone who has difficulties getting to the pharmacy or buying a medication should call a friend, a doctor, or a pharmacist and seek help, to avoid making any existing problem worse. More than ever before, now is the time to take care of our health.
Going to the Doctor During a Pandemic
In response to the risk of COVID-19 infection, new protocols are being followed by health professionals to prevent the spread of the virus and protect both staff and patients.
If you plan on going to the doctor or dentist, these are some of the measures to keep in mind and be familiar with ahead of time.
- When calling to make an appointment, you’ll be asked whether you have a fever or COVID symptoms.
- An assistant will explain the new guidelines to you.
- In most offices or health centers, there are no longer waiting rooms.
- You will likely be asked to call as soon as you arrive and you will be told when you can enter.
- Your temperature will be taken upon entering the doctor’s office.
- You must wear a mask the entire time. You will only remove your mask if you need to have a dental procedure or throat inspection.
For the medical staff:
- They’ll be wearing N95 masks.
- In some cases, they’ll also have plastic face shields.
- They’ll be wearing gloves.
- They will wash and disinfect their hands before and after seeing you.
SOCIAL DISTANCING: During a medical or dental exam, maintaining a social distance of six feet (two meters) may be difficult; that’s why the precautions described above are so important.
Annual Check-Ups: More Important Than Ever
Though they may have been postponed due to lockdowns, annual check-ups with your primary care doctor are necessary. They are an opportunity to discuss health problems, concerns, stress, children, work, and life. Your doctor will ask questions about your medications, changes in your routine and habits, and check your vital signs.
The following is a list of essential tests that are part of an annual check-up:
Blood Pressure. The pressure at which blood travels in the circulatory system. Less than 120 over 80 is considered a normal range. More than 130 over 80 is considered high. In the latter case, your doctor will explain the risks of hypertension, discuss dietary changes, and prescribe medications if needed.
Cardiac Rhythm. The range considered normal is between 60 and 100 heartbeats per minute. If your cardiac rhythm is accelerated, above these values, your doctor may order an electrocardiogram.
Respiratory Rhythm. Between 12 and 16 breaths per minute is considered a normal rhythm for adults. More than 20 could signal a cardiac or lung problem.
Temperature. The normal average is 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit (37 Celsius). If your temperature is higher than 100 degrees Fahrenheit, it could be a sign that your body is fighting an infection.
During an annual check-up, the doctor will also examine:
Your Abdomen. Applying pressure and using their stethoscope to detect the size of your liver and the presence of fluids.
Your Nervous System. With a tiny hammer, doctors tap the knee to test your reflexes and ensure your nervous system is functioning as it should. Aside from your knee, your reflexes can also be checked along the outside of the elbows, in the crooks of the arms, and at the wrists and ankles.
Your Pulse. Not only on the wrist but also in your legs and arms. Your doctor will likely take this opportunity to check for any deformities in the hand joints.
Your Skin. They will check for any moles or marks on the skin. Nearly one in every ten people have at least one unusual (atypical) mole that looks different from normal moles, known as a dysplastic nevus. These moles have a higher probability of turning into melanoma, a type of skin cancer.
Your Lungs and Heart. The doctor will listen to your heart with a stethoscope and ask you to breathe deeply and say “ahh” in order to hear your lungs. If necessary, they may order an electrocardiogram and spirometry. The latter consists of blowing as strongly as possible into a small machine that evaluates your lung capacity.
Your Neck. Your doctor will want to make sure there are no bumps near the thyroid gland or inflamed lymph nodes by gently pressing your neck.
In this appointment, your doctor will also take blood and urine samples, or write an order for you to get them done at a lab. The test will include a complete blood count to detect changes in your levels of good and bad cholesterol, lipids, and sugar, as well as probably COVID-19 bodies, among others.
Tests That Can’t Wait
- Pap Smear (or Papanicolau)
During a Pap smear, the doctor takes a sample of cells from a woman’s cervix in order to detect any celular anomalies. According to the American Cancer Association, it must be done once a year after the age of 21, or once a person starts to be sexually active. After the age of 50, it is done every five years if a woman has no history or risks of cancer.
Mammograms and ultrasounds are two techniques used to assess the breasts and detect any bumps or cysts. Experts suggest getting an annual mammogram after the age of 40, and before if you have a history of breast cancer in your family. One in every eight women will have invasive breast cancer, which in most cases can be prevented and managed thanks to early detection via mammograms. The likelihood of a woman dying from breast cancer is approximately one in 38 (around 2.6%).
Doctors diagnose any issues by gently pressing the prostate through the wall of the rectum, or by doing a test called a prostate-specific antigen (PSA). Other tests include ultrasounds, x-rays, and biopsies. Prostate cancer can often be detected early by analyzing PSA levels in the blood. Around one in every nine men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer at some point in his life, and one in 41 men will die from prostate cancer.
Colorectal cancer affects both men and women. The Colorectal Cancer Control Program recommends getting periodic tests to detect any problems starting at age 50. For men, the risks of developing colorectal cancer is approximately one in every 23 (4.4%), and for women it is one in every 25 (4.1%). The number of cases has gone down over the last decade because colorectal polyps are now detected more frequently through preventive tests and removed before they can turn into cancer, or they are found in earlier stages, when the illness is easier to treat.
- Depression and Anxiety
Just like physical health, emotional health is vitally important. You should not hesitate to let your doctor know if you have experienced feelings of sadness or depression or have lost interest in certain activities in the last few months, due to the challenges posed by the pandemic. Your doctor can tell you if you should see another specialist or get tested for depression. Your sleep schedule, exercise, and alcohol consumption are also important factors.
Although the novel coronavirus is still making headlines, other health problems have not disappeared. Visiting the doctor and continuing any treatment and prescribed medications are the best ways to keep them at bay.
Sources: Kaiser Family Foundation, “Poll: Nearly Half of the Public Say They or a Family Member Skipped or Delayed Care Due to Coronavirus”, Mayo Cinic, Stay on Track with Medications, MedlinePlus, Physical exam frecuency, CDC, Doctor Visits and Getting Medicines, American Cancer Society https://www.cancer.org/