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What to Expect At Your Doctor’s Appointment

Planning to see your doctor or other health care provider in the coming weeks? Maybe it’s time to adjust expectations.

Most physicians who are not on the front lines (i.e. in ERs or ICUs, or in hospital wards treating COVID-19 patients) have been “seeing patients” through a computer screen or speaking with them over the phone.  While telemedicine works well for simple issues, or for certain specialties such as psychiatry, it doesn’t replace the experience of a face-to-face, hands-on appointment with your trusted physician regarding a more serious physical condition.

Though different states and regions have different restrictions, and each medical specialty may rely upon its own method of examination, seeing a physician for a pressing medical need is going to be different during this time of COVID-19. Necessary protective and distancing practices, despite making the relationship between doctor and patient seem strained and impersonal, are absolutely necessary to keep everyone safe and prevent the spread.

If you’ve determined that you absolutely must see your MD right now, expect the following:

  1. Long Wait Time Be prepared to wait for days for a call back and possibly weeks for an actual appointment. Fewer physicians are seeing patients, and those who are seeing them are seeing fewer patients per day, since appointments take longer to complete and exam rooms must be cleaned thoroughly between patients. So instead of 4 patients an hour, a physician may only be able to see 1 or 2.  You may be asked to come alone, without a friend or family member, and possibly to wait in your car until you are called. Make sure your cell phone is charged so you can be contacted when they are ready to have you come into the office.
  2. Pre-Appointment Homework Expect to complete all your pre-appointment paperwork and other explanatory materials at home and return them to the medical office prior to the visit. Take a 30-second video of your chief complaint. If your shoulder hurts, make a short video and point our where is hurts and with what movements is it worse or better. If you have a rash, take a video demonstrating where it is and what it looks like.  Keep it short, no more than 30 seconds.  Send it to the office ahead of your visit.  Prepare a short list of questions and say them out loud.  Edit the list to include only the logical and essential questions.
  3. COVID-19 Screening Expect to be asked COVID-related questions and have your temperature checked before you are allowed into the office. If you have a temperature or other COVID symptoms, like coughing, fever, body aches, malaise, diarrhea and/or a recent exposure to someone with COVID, you will not be let in. Be honest and considerate. Take your temperature at home before your appointment, so that you are not surprised by being turned away outside the office, if you have a fever.
  4. Eerie Silence The doctor’s waiting room will not be the bustling place you are used to. This is due to new social distancing guidelines, and the need to space out the appointments and only allowing one person, i.e. the patient, into the office.
  5. Protect Yourself This means wear a mask and carry your own hand sanitizer. Do not assume that the physician’s office or hospital will provide this for you. Do not use your cell phone once you are in the office. Touch as few things as possible and wash your hands frequently.
  6. Take Stock of Medications You may be advised to not take anti-inflammatories like Advil, which is a non-steroidal ibuprofen, or Tylenol (acetaminophen) for pain relief for a few days before your appointment. This is because ibuprofen can augment the coronavirus’s effect on your body and acetaminophen can mask fever. Many other medications can confound issues as well, so be sure to list all of them on your pre-appointment paperwork. Tell the doctor about alcohol use as well. This is a high-risk time, and withholding information can be extremely risky.
  7. Brief Encounters There will be little or no chitchat, small talk, or catching up. You may not even recognize the person behind the face shield, mask or other PPE garb.  They may not recognize you behind your mask. Remember, health care providers have to see many people in one day. While the doctor may be your only MD, you are not his or her only patient. If the doctor writes you a prescription, it will most likely be transmitted electronically to the pharmacy. Choose a pharmacy that is doing free delivery. The fewer places you go, the better.
  8. Uncertainty. You may be told that the timing of a procedure or follow-up is “unsure.” Or you may get a Sunday slot for surgery. Given all the complexities of scheduling and organizing right now, anything is possible. If you have a procedure, there’s a good chance that follow-ups and recaps may be completed by phone, Skype or Zoom.

Above all, be PATIENT. These are extraordinary times, but we will get through them more quickly and easily if everyone works together, practices the guidelines, stays considerate of others, and understands that we are all weathering the same storm.

Good luck!! – E.C.T.

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