Stay on top of your health

Dr. Donald Rebhun is regional medical director for Optum in California. Valley News/Courtesy photo

Dr. Donald Rebhun, Special to Valley News

Let’s face it: even before the current pandemic, many people had apprehension about going to the doctor for check-ups and routine care. As a practicing internist with many years of experience helping people live healthier lives, I’ve certainly seen my share of patients who are nervous going to the doctor.

Now, with health authorities and physicians asking people to socially distance and avoid crowded public spaces, the thought of going to a doctor’s office and sitting in the waiting room brings an added dimension of anxiety. That’s why physicians, like myself, have adapted new technology to provide care and make in-person visits safe.

The fact is routine care shouldn’t be put on the backburner. It’s vitally important for people, especially those with chronic conditions, to stay on top of their health. A recent survey of primary care physicians revealed a troubling statistic: the majority of physicians surveyed believe that delayed care due to COVID-19 could result in serious and sometimes fatal outcomes.

It is especially true for the six out of 10 adults with chronic conditions. These patients face serious risks if their conditions aren’t managed appropriately. For example, diabetes affects nearly 34 million people in the U.S. and diabetic patients can take preventive measures to avoid severe complications such as nerve damage, heart disease and kidney disease. Simply keeping blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol levels in check and having regular checkups with a doctor can help reduce their risk.

There’s also growing concern for children. The World Health Organization said that over 80 million children under 1 year old are at increased risk of diseases such as polio, measles and diphtheria due to COVID-19 delays of vaccinations. An Optum study also examined data from providers and health systems looking at over 117,000 children who received the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine in the first four months of both 2019 and 2020. It found a 43% drop this year. I can’t overstate the importance of parents keeping on top of their children’s vaccine schedules to help keep them protected against preventable diseases.

So, how do people stay on top of their health while keeping safe from COVID-19? The most important thing people can do is call their doctor and ask for guidance. Their doctor may suggest a remote visit. Many have rolled out private, secure video chat and phone visit technology within the last few months. While a physician can’t draw blood or listen to their heart and lungs remotely, sometimes they can diagnose a condition based solely on the patient’s description of symptoms. They can also help determine whether the person should come in for an in-person visit or if their symptoms suggest they should be seen in an urgent care or emergency room. For those at higher risk during COVID-19, being able to see a primary care doctor from the comfort and safety of home can be helpful.

When a person does need to go to the office, many doctors have put effective new safeguards and procedures in place for in-person visits. These include limiting the number of people in the clinic, screening visitors for symptoms and encouraging hand hygiene and the use of masks, among other steps. Patients should take comfort in knowing their doctors and clinical staff are taking the necessary steps to avoid spreading the virus.

Everyone is feeling the fear and anxiety caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, but that shouldn’t cause them to put something as important as their health on the backburner. The consequences are too severe. Physicians, like myself, want to remind patients that they are here to be a partner in maintaining good health. So take care.

Dr. Donald Rebhun is regional medical director for Optum in California.