Seeing your doctor has been difficult during the past year due to the pandemic. For part of the year many outpatient settings were closed or had reduced office hours as physicians were redeployed to the frontlines and resources and facilities were used to care for the onslaught of COVID-19 patients. Also, many people may have stayed away from all health care settings due to a fear of being exposed to patients with COVID-19. But now, despite multiple attempts to convince patients that the doctor is in, back at work, and ready, willing and able to take care of our patients who have non-COVID diseases, people are still hesitant to come in. Those who are not getting the prompt medical attention they would have sought before the pandemic are jeopardizing their lives.
Many patients delayed seeing a doctor during the pandemic either because they thought the doctor’s office was not open or due to concerns of being exposed to COVID-19. Even though we have more than 300 patients with COVID-19 admitted to our Mount Sinai hospitals right now, many more are extremely sick due to other conditions. The delay in getting proper care is causing our patients to come into the hospital in extremely deteriorated health. We are seeing patients in our emergency rooms and on our hospital wards with late stages of serious infections and other conditions.
My concern is that patients are delaying going to the doctor for early signs of a medical concern, such as a fever or abdominal pain. These minor symptoms can be the manifestation of an important medical problem, such as an infection in the skin, lungs, or intestine, a reaction to a drug that can lead to kidney or liver damage, or other problem. A patient with an infection which may have improved just with antibiotic pills is now showing up in our emergency rooms with an infection that has spread to the bloodstream. Some of these patients have signs of severe inflammation, known as “sepsis,” which can lead to shock and death.
When the pandemic started, there were many aspects we were still learning about which led to concerns about the spread of COVID-19, such as how and when to test, and ways to prevent the spread of the virus. These concerns should now be greatly lowered. We are a year into this pandemic and testing is widely available and we have rigorous protocols to protect our patients from COVID-19 when they come into the office. There is social distancing in the physical space, mask-wearing requirements, COVID-19 testing beforehand and, of course, the vaccine, which will protect patients as well as the physicians and their staff.
Doctors’ offices are now open and ready to hear about your concerns. Most have full office hours, and many have added new telehealth services, where your doctor can “see you” while you are at home through a video visit over your computer or smartphone. There is now no reason to put off having any symptom or concern evaluated that you would have had checked prior to the pandemic. Unnecessarily delaying may cause a minor problem to become more severe and risk your life. Whether it’s for you or a loved one, I encourage you to not delay medical care.
Andrew Dunn, MD is Chief of the Division of Hospital Medicine and Professor of Medicine for the Mount Sinai Health System.
We are a year into this pandemic and testing is widely available and we have rigorous protocols to protect our patients from COVID-19 when they come into the office.