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Op-Ed

Going to the doctor in a Covid-19 world

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Most people don’t like going to the doctor. The truth? Even doctors don’t like going to doctors. And now, in the time of the coronavirus, people’s willingness to see their doctor is at an all-time low.

It’s not a surprise, considering that the pandemic has many worried not only about themselves, but also about catching Covid-19 and bringing it home to their loved ones. Still, while you may tell yourself that the crisis is a good reason not to see your physician, it’s a mistake that could prove costly to your health and well-being.

Whether you suffer from an illness that requires testing and close monitoring, or have symptoms that are new, it’s important to continue to see your doctor. With Covid-19 widespread, the best way to access health may seem unclear at first, but just as you continue relationships with friends and family by following safety protocols, your relationship with your doctor is one that can also be maintained safely.

Here’s how: First, stay connected. Call your doctor’s office and ask about the options for a visit. There are two common options: the virtual visit, conducted by video chat or phone, and the traditional in-person visit. In either case, many of the same rules apply. Come prepared to ask questions and complete any required tests (like blood work) that are needed to make the time with your physician the most beneficial for both of you.

If a virtual visit is the right option for you, ask your doctor’s office for any special instructions. What technology is needed? Will a smartphone or laptop work best? Do you need to download an app or program? Will the doctor call or send a website link via text or email? Make sure the battery for your phone or computer is fully charged and that, if the consultation takes places during the day, you sit facing a window or place a lamp in front of you so the doctor can see you clearly on his or her screen.

If an in-person visit is the right option for you, ask your doctor’s office for any special instructions before you head to the office. Some may ask you to call them from the door when you arrive to make sure you don’t have to wait in the waiting area. If you have a fever, cough or cold, or otherwise aren’t well, please let the office know so proper precautions can be taken to care for you. Remember to wear a face covering and follow the social-distancing rules of the office, which will require you to be six feet away from others and be in an area with fewer than 10 people. Wash or sanitize your hands both before and after the visit and when you arrive back at home. And once you’re at home again, put your clothes in the laundry.

No matter which option is right for you, make sure you call the doctor’s office to follow up or schedule other appointments, and remember to keep the doctor up to date on how you’re feeling. If at any time you feel ill, let your physician know right away.

By having a plan and a strategy, and exercising control of the situation, you can reduce fear and anxiety about seeking medical care.

One more thing: If you don’t have a primary-care doctor, it’s important to find one who can help you on your health journey. Ask friends, family members or your insurance provider for recommendations. The best time to meet a new doctor is before you fall ill. This gives your doctor the chance to understand who you are and how he can help achieve your goal: to be the healthiest version of you.

Remember, although many things have changed as a result of the virus, we’re in this together. Relationships remain essential — and that includes your relationship with your doctor.

Dr. Ankita Sagar is a primary care physician for adults and an assistant professor of medicine at the Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell Health. Dr. Maria Carney is a geriatrician and palliative medicine physician for older adults, and a professor of medicine at the Zucker School.