Comment: Been a while between doctor visits? Time to schedule

Some of us skipped care appointments during the pandemic. Now’s the time to check off your checkups.

By Dr. Steve Jacobson / For The Herald

It is an understatement to say that that the covid-19 pandemic put life on hold for nearly a year and a half. Luckily, we find ourselves in a much better place than where we were a year ago, thanks in large part to the availability of vaccines, the lifting of pandemic restrictions, and society starting to reopen.

With this latest phase comes the required next step of navigating our new normal, and this is particularly true for taking care of our mental and physical health. Knowing where and how to start after more than a year at being home can seem like a daunting task.

Many people put off doctor visits during the pandemic, and scheduling time with your primary care provider is a good first step. If you don’t have a primary care provider, health plans like Premera Blue Cross offer their members access to extensive directories for doctors, nurse practitioners and other care providers. Once you schedule your appointment, a few things to cover during your visit include:

Get a wellness check-up. Schedule time with your doctor for a regular checkup, which could include screenings for cholesterol, certain types of cancer, blood pressure and other issues.

Follow-up on chronic conditions. For people with conditions like diabetes, heart disease or chronic lung diseases, putting off care can have serious complications. It is critical to ensure that doctor visits are schedule to help manage chronic illness.

Get all your vaccines. While the covid-19 vaccines are making headlines, there are other important vaccines that we need to ensure we’re taking as well, including the annual flu shot. Many of us have put off getting our other vaccines for ourselves and for our children because of the pandemic, and now is the time to get those scheduled.

Another important consideration is whether to schedule an appointment in person or virtually. During the pandemic, people and health care providers quickly shifted to adopt to virtual (online) care. Patients were able to set up virtual appointments for a wide variety of care needs.

Prior to covid-19, most primary providers had limited availability for virtual visits or did not offer it at all. This all changed as the world pivoted, and demand for virtual care options soared. There are numerous telehealth options, including primary care apps like Doctor On Demand and 98point6 and behavioral health apps, like Talkspace, Boulder Care and Workit Health.

While virtual care continues to be an important part of the health care journey, there will be situations where in-person visits will be best for both the patient and provider. For example, lab tests, vaccinations, giving blood and treating wounds can’t be done online. Providers are taking extraordinary measures to protect patients, staff and themselves against covid.

Protective measures can include screenings prior to entering facilities, requiring protective equipment, rigorous cleaning and disinfecting protocols, scheduling additional time between appointments to minimize contact between patients and changing the setup of waiting rooms to allow for physical distancing. Ask your provider about their covid-19 protocols.

Regardless of whether it is virtual or in-person, make sure to schedule — and keep — your appointment. Your health should always be a priority; don’t delay on scheduling your appointment with your primary care provider. Taking care of your mental and physical health is important.

Dr. Steve Jacobson is medical director of government programs at Premera Blue Cross, where he is responsible for overseeing medical management and medical policies related to Premera’s Individual and Medicare lines of business. Previously, he spent 26 years practicing at The Everett Clinic, where he also served as regional medical director in medical management. He is board-certified in family practice. He received his medical degree from the University of Washington.

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