COVID-19 has changed nearly everything about our lives. With schools and businesses closed and social distancing measures in place, most of us have spent as much time as possible avoiding unnecessary contact with people to prevent the spread of the virus. While this was an important step to take in slowing the outbreak, we are now beginning to look at how to safely resume normal activities, and this includes routine health care.
When the pandemic was declared, NorthLakes Community Clinic made the difficult decision to cancel our non-emergent medical and dental visits to protect our vulnerable patients. We know that people with chronic conditions like heart disease, COPD and diabetes are at higher risk for complications and serious illness from the COVID-19 virus. This is why health care providers and officials especially urged these groups to follow social distancing and avoid unnecessary appointments. In balancing protecting a patient with diabetes from infection with the virus, versus having them come to the clinic for labs and a routine check-up, we recommended delaying routine care.
Now that we are three months into this pandemic, we need to revisit those decisions. We know that COVID-19 is not going away in the immediate future, and the risk to our patients with chronic disease is beginning to shift. Uncontrolled or poorly controlled diabetes, heart disease and COPD pose a greater risk on two levels. First, there are the general risks that come with a lack of routine care for chronic illness at any time, such as higher risks of heart attack or stroke. Second, while a chronic disease itself puts patients at greater risk for severe complications if they are infected with COVID-19, the risk increases with insufficient control and management.
We have also seen people delaying other care due to the pandemic, which is also a concern. While it was appropriate to delay routine screenings like mammograms and colonoscopies for a short time, these should not be delayed indefinitely. Cancer screenings, regular immunizations, and wellness checkups are all a vital part of healthcare and need to resume, following safe protocols.
The good news is that, like other healthcare organizations, NorthLakes has spent the last three months figuring out how to adjust to this new normal, and we have become even more skilled in infection control and appropriate use of personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect themselves and those around them. We have also developed new processes for telehealth that allow us to connect with patients who don’t necessarily need to be seen in person.
At NorthLakes clinics, we have put a huge amount of time and thought into providing access for our patients while also keeping patients and staff safe. We are continuing to offer virtual and in-person visits and want our patients to know that your health is our number one priority. If you have been delaying care, now is the time to get back in touch with your provider and schedule that appointment you’ve been putting off. If you aren’t sure whether a virtual or in-person visit would be more appropriate for you, call us and our staff can help you figure that out.
To schedule an appointment at NorthLakes Community Clinic, please call 888.834.4551.
Submitted by Lori Cannon, MSN, RN, PCMH CCE - Care Management and PCMH Manager