Ask Dr. Paul: It’s time to prioritize your health-care needs

Don’t delay that much-needed check-up. Doctor’s clinics have put COVID-19 safety precautions in place.

It’s natural to worry about going out in public or interacting with others, especially for our vulnerable populations at greater risk for COVID-19.

But that does not mean you should delay important and timely health-care needs. Health-care clinics are implementing safety measures to keep us safe when we visit our providers.

Q: I’m in my 60s, with an underlying health condition that needs regular follow-up care. I’m nervous about going to see my doctor. What are my options?

A: During the last two months, health care has been limited to patients with a suspected COVID-19 infection or an urgent health matter. Routine health visits, yearly physicals, routine labs and elective surgery were suspended to make room for COVID care.

At the same time, all of us have been staying at home, staying 6 feet away from our friends, neighbors and relatives, and avoiding populated places. Non-essential businesses are shuttered.

But all the hard work has helped reduce the spread of the coronavirus in our region.

I’m also in my 60s, and therefore a member of the “high risk” group. My wife has asthma, so we both have been very careful and cautious.

But I’m also three months overdue for my annual physical, routine blood tests and eye exam. Like many members of the Over 60 Club, I’m nervous about going to see my health-care providers. But I’m also nervous about not receiving my regular care.

I’m no spring chicken. I need to take care of my health.

“Patients need to stay healthy through this pandemic. We know that our patients have delayed care,” said Alka Atal-Barrio, chief medical officer at The Everett Clinic. “COVID risk is reduced in our area now, but it’s still there and will not be going away any time soon.

“For many people, if you take the right precautions, the risk to your health now is greater if you delay receiving health care than the risk of contracting COVID.”

In the last two months, health-care systems have learned a great deal about how to protect patients and providers alike, so that going forward the risk of infection should be decreased. Health-care systems have been creative and resourceful. For example, video visits are now available for consultation where a physical exam isn’t necessary.

But we will still need to see our health-care providers for some visits. What will change?

Health-care clinics throughout the state have put safety precautions in place to help keep you safe. At The Everett Clinic, everyone in outpatient health centers is masked and physical distancing is practiced carefully. Every patient who enters the building is screened for respiratory symptoms or fever. Providers and staff are checked daily for symptoms. Patients with suspected COVID infections are being seen and cared for in separate locations.

Testing in Washington is also now widely available, easier to administer, and the results come back faster. Exam rooms are disinfected after each use and hand hygiene is followed carefully.

What will stay the same? Your health-care providers and care system will provide the same high-quality care you’ve come to expect. For a while, we will be living in a new world of health care.

It’s time for those of us who are older to take care of our health. For some, that means continuing to socially isolate. For others, it means getting that much-needed check-up.

We can have confidence in our health-care providers who have done a great job in taking care of us during these challenging and unusual times.

Our health depends on it.

Paul Schoenfeld is a clinical psychologist at The Everett Clinic. His Family Talk blog can be found at www.everettclinic.com/family-talk-blog. Do you have a behavioral-health question related to COVID-19? Sending your questions to askdrpaul@everettclinic.com.

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