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Putting off routine medical appointments because of coronavirus? Go now, doctors say

Now is a good time to visit a doctor for routine care, experts say.
Now is a good time to visit a doctor for routine care, experts say. Getty Images

Now’s the time to catch up on any routine tests, screening and care you might have postponed because of the coronavirus outbreak, doctors say.

Unlike at the beginning of the pandemic, case loads in Canada are relatively low — but with numbers rising in B.C. and elsewhere, this might be the perfect time to do routine appointments in case things get worse again and doctors have to re-prioritize to focus on the pandemic.

“We’ve got a window,” said Dr. David Price, chair of McMaster University’s Department of Family Medicine and chair of a provincial advisory board on primary care. “Is it going to be six weeks? Is it going to be three months? None of us really know yet.

“If there are things that should be taken care of, now is the time to do so.”

Some things should never be ignored or postponed, said Dr. Doug Oliver, medical director of the McMaster Family Practice. If you’re experiencing acute injuries, illness, pain or mental health or addictions issues, you should contact a health-care provider immediately.

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Childhood vaccines should also be kept up, he said.

Read more: Don’t wait to vaccinate kids during the coronavirus outbreak, doctors say

But other things, like routine cancer screening tests like pap smears, mammograms and colorectal cancer tests might have fallen on the backburner.

They shouldn’t stay there forever, Price said.

“We know that if we start waiting too long to defer things, the unintended consequences are going to be much greater than the risks of catching COVID,” he said. In the case of cancer screening, if you do end up finding something wrong, “by the time we find things, these are going to be much more advanced.”

Read more: How coronavirus affects women’s health care

It’s important to note that it’s not the end of the world if you go a few months later for a pap smear than you’re supposed to, though, said Dr. Tina Korownyk, an associate professor of family medicine at the University of Alberta.

Here are 3 challenges obstetricians, gynecologists face taking appointments online amid the COVID-19 pandemic
Here are 3 challenges obstetricians, gynecologists face taking appointments online amid the COVID-19 pandemic

“If that’s delayed by six months, it’s likely not going to make a difference,” she said. Many screening tests have some flexibility on exactly how often they should be done.

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Read more: Annual checkups are not always effective for healthy people, report says

But Price says patients shouldn’t worry right now about dangers at the doctor’s office. Staff screen patients for symptoms, facilities are thoroughly cleaned, doctors wear personal protective equipment, and they now take measures to make sure that waiting rooms and other common areas aren’t too crowded.

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He recommends that patients call ahead to determine whether their visit needs to be done in person or can be done over the phone. You should also let your health-care provider know if you’re experiencing a cough, fever or have any reason to suspect you may have COVID-19.

The same goes for dental visits — dentists think that now is a good time to get your teeth looked at, though not everyone agrees.

Read more: Avoid routine dental visits amid coronavirus uncertainty, WHO says

While the World Health Organization last week said that people should consider delaying non-urgent dental appointments for now, Dr. Michael Wiseman, an associate professor of dentistry at McGill University and a practicing dentist, believes the risk of catching COVID-19 due to dental procedures is low in Canada right now, particularly given the low case load.

“I think now’s a great time to see your dentist,” he said. “You can go see a dentist knowing that we have increased our vigilance, our protection for COVID-19.”

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Dentists are also pre-screening patients and wearing extra protective equipment, he said. And delaying dental checkups too long has consequences too.

Dentists can spot cavities or caries in hard-to-see places like between your teeth, which left to fester, can worsen to the point of you needing serious work like a root canal, he said. They also screen for signs of oral cancers and gum disease.

“See your dentist before it hurts, we always say.”

There’s one major exception to this general “see your doctor” message, though: annual physicals.

“There’s a lot of evidence suggesting they’re not particularly helpful,” Korownyk said. Many physicians have argued for years that they get cut back, she said, “but because a lot of people expect them, it’s hard to make that change.”

COVID-19 lockdowns have made a lot of doctors postpone physicals, she said, and she hopes they stay postponed.