Why COVID-19 concerns shouldn’t deter usual health care
Published on Monday, June 1, 2020
By: Bruce Coleman
Crawlers across the bottom of television screens during local news broadcasts convey the latest statistics on COVID-19 cases – and deaths – throughout the state.
National infectious disease experts warn communities that easing restrictions too soon could cause a second wave of the deadly virus.
Comments posted to online medical articles are jam-packed with anecdotes about individuals who have succumbed to the novel coronavirus.
The daily bombardment of news, conjectures and rumors about COVID-19 can make anyone determined to avoid health care settings at any cost.
No matter the information about the virus that may be circulating throughout the media, UMMC health care providers agree: Fear of contracting COVID-19 should not deter anyone from seeking timely medical assistance.
Whether visiting a family practitioner for an annual medical exam or going to an emergency room for an acute illness, delaying treatment is never the best option.
“Even during a pandemic – and maybe especially during a pandemic – people need to stay as healthy as possible,” said Dr. Anderson B. Collier, professor of pediatric hematology and oncology at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. “So while that includes quarantining and social distancing to decrease exposure, it also includes avoiding getting new problems or making old problems worse by neglecting routing health care.
“Part of keeping yourself or your child healthy is to continue routine check-ups for chronic issues and having problems evaluated. Don’t let fear of one problem cause another treatable problem to worsen.”
People may have genuine concerns about contracting COVID-19, which drives most of their decisions to avoid health care facilities, said Dr. Javed Butler, professor and chair of the Department of Medicine and Patrick H. Lehan Chair of Cardiovascular Medicine at UMMC.
“But the way to reduce risk is general measures like social distancing, hand hygiene, wearing masks as recommended, avoiding social gatherings, etc.,” Butler said. “Health care facilities should help provide an environment that facilitate these measures.
“But not seeking health care can only hurt you – you don’t want to trade one problem for another, but seek ways to address both.”
Indeed, after the Medical Center registered more than an 80-percent drop in heart failure admissions in May, Butler expressed concern about the public’s perception of personal safety at health care facilities.
“Hospitals are well prepared to protect people against the COVID infection,” he said. “So – and I don’t say this lightly – going to the hospital may be safer than going to the grocery store.”
For families seeking treatment for their children at UMMC, communication is key to peace of mind, according to Karen Dowling, Children’s of Mississippi chief ambulatory and network operations officer.
“Patient families are being called one or two days before (the child’s appointment) to ensure patients know what to expect and what we are doing to ensure their safety,” Dowling said. “Our staff all wear masks and dedicate time to additional cleaning and disinfectant activities throughout the day and between patients.
“Some clinics have curbside registration and we also have been utilizing telehealth for those patient appointments that can be appropriately managed remotely.”
Collier said staff In the Children’s Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders have rearranged the waiting room to allow for appropriate social distancing.
“We have attempted to streamline the check-in and triage procedures so that people do not have to wait in the waiting room very long,” he said. “We have also moved some of our infusion chairs out of the infusion room so that we can spread the remainder of the chairs out.
“We also piloted the outdoor lab draw that was then adopted for all the patients at UMMC.”
These are just a few of the many safety measures UMMC staff have put in place to ensure the safety of patients and visitors from COVID-19 (see list below). But Butler, who has studied declines in hospitalizations for acute cardiovascular conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic, said if ignored, other health care conditions could prove more harmful than the novel coronavirus.
“While we all have to take adequate precautions to not get affected by the current pandemic, the fact is that other health care issues will continue to impact us,” he said. “A lot of health care is about prevention or early diagnosis, and not getting routine health care may lead to a delayed diagnosis.”
He cited cancer as one example, a condition that, if undetected, could develop into a serious health care threat. Another health care issue not to be ignored is continued management of a known disease, “which may be controlled with routine care, but may become uncontrolled or worse if regular care is not sought,” he said.
“So for both reasons, continuing to get routine health care is imperative.”
For those requiring routine care, Butler suggested another possible option to in-person health care visits: telemedicine.
“Patients should contact their clinicians to ask when and how they should get health care,” he said. “In some instances, telemedicine may help them avoid coming to a health care facility altogether.”
“For those patients for whom it is reasonable, we are doing telehealth visits,” Collier said. “This service was previously only utilized by one of the providers in the (Children’s Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders) and is now used by all the providers.”
For those who may still be hesitant to seek health care during the pandemic, Butler advises having an honest conversation with their respective health care providers.
“They should inquire from the health care facility they get their care at whether there are provisions to support safety,” he said. “Avoiding seeking health care is not the answer.”
“People are scared of contracting COVID-19 and fear that their chances are higher at the hospital,” Collier said. “However, the screening and safety measures that have been put into place are there to protect everyone and have been very effective at preventing spread.”
For more information about COVID-19 safety measures being taken at UMMC, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P9EsVZsUtO0 and www.umc.edu/safeforcare. To learn more about COVID-19 safety measures at Children’s of Mississippi facilities, visit https://www.umc.edu/Childrens/Patient-Safety-Measures.html.
Patients coming to any University of Mississippi Medical Center hospitals or clinics can rest assured the following strict safety measures are in place to prevent exposure to COVID-19.
- Continue to emphasize hand hygiene and other infection prevention measures,
- Routinely screen health care workers and require any with symptoms to isolate away from work,
- Require all employees to wear masks,
- Maintain current policies restricting the number of visitors in hospital areas,
- Require patients and visitors to wear masks and screen them for symptoms and exposure to COVID-19,
- Test patients before surgeries and select procedures (We do all COVID-19 testing in the UMMC laboratory, allowing for quicker turnaround times.),
- Keep COVID-19 patients separate from non-COVID-19 patients,
- Reconfigure waiting rooms and public spaces to adhere to social distancing practices,
- Frequently clean and sanitize common-use areas for the safety of patients, visitors and the care staff,
- Allow patients and visitors in some ambulatory settings to wait in their vehicles until called for their appointments,
- Offer telehealth options for care, particularly for patients at high risk, and
- Offer drive-through laboratory testing options.
The above article appears in CONSULT, UMMC’s monthly e-newsletter sharing news about cutting-edge clinical and health science education advances and innovative biomedical research at the Medical Center and giving you tips and suggestions on how you and the people you love can live a healthier life. Click here and enter your email address to receive CONSULT free of charge. You may cancel at any time.