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Alberta doctors say some patients not telling the truth when it comes to COVID-19

Health Matters: March 17
WATCH ABOVE: In Tuesday's edition of Health Matters, Su-Ling Goh tells us about why doctors are emphasizing the importance of patients being honest about COVID-19 symptoms, why trips to the dentist's office are being restricted in Alberta during the COVID-19 crisis, why some retired people are being asked to help out with the pandemic and about challenges currently facing Canadian Blood Services.

Several doctors in Edmonton are speaking up about patients who are putting others at risk by not being honest about their potential COVID-19 symptoms or travel history.

The medical professionals want to remain anonymous to protect patient confidentiality, but their message is clear: “This is not a drill… [telling the truth] is very important,” one family physician said.

In the past week, she has seen up to five patients per day who she said were not telling the truth. Her staff screens patients first over the phone, then again at reception.

READ MORE: Alberta doctors urge government to do more amid coronavirus pandemic

There is also a sign on the door of the clinic warning patients not to enter if they have respiratory symptoms or if they have recently travelled outside of Canada.

One patient denied having symptoms three times.

“But then when I was standing outside the [exam] room… I heard the patient coughing inside the room,” the doctor said. “I put on a mask and when I went inside and asked the patient about it, she admitted she had a bit of a mild cold since yesterday.
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“So this of course had exposed the waiting room and put the clinic and myself at an unnecessary risk.”

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She said she feels the motivation is fear, and she has heard of patients who exaggerated symptoms or fabricated a travel history in order to increase their chances of being tested for COVID-19. Part of the problem is the long wait time to get through to Health Link (811).

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“There are some people who are very worried about their symptoms, and they feel that a test would be important,” the doctor said.

When Global News alerted Dr. Deena Hinshaw — Alberta’s chief medical officer of health — about the issue on Tuesday, she replied that she had not heard of any reports of patient dishonesty.

“I do know that… those Albertans who haven’t travelled are concerned about not being able to be tested,” Hinshaw said. “So I understand that is a frustration and that could be why some people are choosing to respond in a way that’s maybe different from the facts.”

“It’s not driven because someone is a deviant,” said one emergency doctor. “They want to be reassured, and that’s just not part of what we’re doing right now.”

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The Edmonton physician said he has experienced patient dishonesty at least 10 times in less than a week.

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When someone shows up in the emergency department, they are assessed at least twice by nurses before he sees them.

READ MORE: Premier Jason Kenney declares COVID-19 public health emergency in Alberta

“I have personally run into… patients who have gone through three or four steps of [screening] before identifying to me that they actually indeed do have cold and flu symptoms.”

So far, none of his questionable patients have been high-risk for COVID-19.

“I don’t blame people for being worried, but at the same time, it worries me. Because eventually one of these patients is actually going to have the real thing,” he said.

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The doctors stressed all Albertans will receive the care they need when the timing is appropriate.

If your symptoms are not severe, do not go to emergency. If you are concerned about your risk for COVID-19, visit Alberta’s self-assessment tool.

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials say the risk is low for Canadians but warn this could change quickly. They caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are asked to self-isolate for 14 days in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. And if you get sick, stay at home.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

Watch below: Some Global News videos about Alberta’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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