COVID-19 - Dr. Jim Halverson

COVID-19 - Dr. Jim Halverson

Ask Dr. Halverson: Delay or avoidance of medical care during pandemic is possibly dangerous

web 4 17 Halverson photo

By Dr. Halverson

Temporary disruptions in routine and nonemergency medical care have been observed during the pandemic.

A survey conducted by Qualmetrics to a nationwide representative sample of U.S. adults showed that nearly half (41%) of respondents have avoided medical care since the pandemic began, including 12% who did not seek urgent or emergent care when it was needed and 29% who had avoided routine care. This choice was extremely prevalent among unpaid caregivers (spouses or family members) of adults at high risk if exposed to COVID-19, people with two or more underlying medical conditions and those with disabilities.

While adherence to COVID-19 mitigation measures, including stay-at-home orders, has contributed somewhat to people not seeking medical care, many people stated that their reasons included concern that going to health care facilities would increase their risk of exposure to the coronavirus.  Unfortunately, if routine care continues to be avoided, adults are missing opportunities for management of serious chronic conditions and may miss early detection of new conditions, which might worsen outcomes.

Health care providers are keenly aware of this situation and have taken many steps to protect their patients and staff from exposure to the coronavirus. Here is what our office and many other offices in the area are doing to ensure that your visit is safe.

1. We screen all people before entry is allowed into the office and take patients directly into an examination room.

When patients arrive at our office, they call our receptionist from their car. When an exam room becomes available, they are advised to come to the front door where they are screened by a medical assistant and their temperature is taken. If they have any signs or symptoms of COVID-19, they are not allowed in the office and are given the option of scheduling a car appointment for later that day. If not symptomatic, they are taken directly to the exam room. Our waiting room is closed.

 

2. We have lengthened the time between appointments for stable, healthy patients.

After patients have  finished their appointment and exited, with the maintenance of social distancing and masking throughout their time in the office, the exam room is kept empty for 15 minutes and then thoroughly wiped clean before another patient enters. This has been shown to significantly decrease the chance of asymptomatic transmission though aerosolization or direct contact with the coronavirus.

3. We limit the number of visitors who may accompany the patient into the exam room.

No family members or caretakers are allowed into the exam room unless it is necessary for patient safety or accurate communication of their health concerns.

4. We offer telemedicine visits.

Patients who can be cared for without direct examination in the office are given the opportunity to have a visit by telephone, FaceTime or other visual communication platforms. This enables direct provider to patient communication and opportunities for updating labs or other essential health maintenance needs.

5. We offer car visits for patients with possible COVID-19 symptoms.

When patients call for an appointment (we do not allow any walk-in visits) and are determined by our trained staff to have possible symptoms of COVID-19, they are scheduled for an afternoon visit that takes place in their car at a predesignated area at our office parking lot. Our provider who sees the patient has full PPE in place, takes vital signs and is able to perform an exam that enables them to determine if the patient should be tested at that time. They are then given advice about quarantining until results are available (usually in two to three days), warning signs to watch for and how to reach us day or night for further concerns.

During the pandemic, our office has been an extremely safe place to receive care, as have many other offices in the area. Please do not delay important routine visits for physicals, management of chronic conditions or evaluation of acute conditions where medical assessment is needed.

Vaccine and variant update

Our county continues to provide an excellent vaccination implementation plan. I strongly agree with the decision to continue to provide vaccines for those 75 and over for an additional period of time to guarantee vaccine access to this extremely high-risk age group. Nearly 60% of the deaths from COVID-19 in our county have been people 75 and over. Beginning this week, those of you in phase 1B will be given the opportunity to receive your vaccinations. The waiting period is due to limited vaccine availability nationally, a situation that is improving. Our county is ready to administer many more vaccines as we receive them. DO NOT wait until vaccines are available in Ojai.  This may not occur for several more weeks and will initially be on a limited basis.

Regarding coronavirus variants, remember this: IF THE CORONAVIRUS CAN’T REPLICATE, IT CAN’T MUTATE. The sooner we all are given the opportunity to be vaccinated and agree to receive the vaccine, the sooner the pandemic in our area will be brought under control. 

Stay hopeful, stay properly informed, stay committed, stay safe and stay well.

— Dr. Jim Halverson is a longtime Ojai physician who writes a weekly column on COVID-19 for the Ojai Valley News.