Updated June 2, 2020
COVID-19 has, understandably, caused many patients to wonder what to expect from their doctors. The uncertainty and continuously evolving nature of this outbreak has many patients anxious about how to best protect themselves, their loved ones, and access both the ongoing care they need as well as any care they need related to COVID-19.
It’s also important to remain calm but diligent in our efforts to protect each other while we work together to prevent the spread of the virus. The more we stay at home, practice good hygiene, limit interactions, and implement physical (social) distancing the more we can all do to minimize the impact of this virus. We cannot overstate the importance of these practices. If we are going to manage the impact of this virus we need to listen carefully to the advice of our public health agencies and do our best to limit transmission between one another.
Should I be avoiding getting care or are doctor’s available to see me?
Over the past few months doctors, just like all health care providers, have been limiting what care they provide in-person to help limit the spread of the virus.
However, your doctor is very likely available by phone or video to help you manage a variety of health care needs, and may be available to see you in-person if that’s needed and the appropriate precautions can be taken.
If you have an unexpected issue pop up, or a chronic condition that requires ongoing care, or need general support during these uncertain times, it’s essential that you reach out and see what services your doctor can provide. Delaying care you need could be risky, and your doctor can help you figure out whether you need care and the best way for you to receive the care you need.
I heard that I can now get the non-essential or elective care that had been put off for the past few months. What do I need to know?
The Ontario Government recently permitted doctors to provide some of the care they had to limit during the first phase of the pandemic. However, this is a gradual introduction and does not mean that doctors are going back to providing care like they did before the pandemic.
There are still shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE), some medications are in short supply, and some regions of the province are being harder hit by the pandemic than others. There are also a number of safety precautions doctors have to put in place to ensure they can open safely and doctors will be prioritizing access based on need.
Not all doctors will be opening or resuming their practice in the same way and most of the care they provide will still be virtual where appropriate.
My doctor has temporarily closed their practice during the outbreak. How do I get the care that I need?
Doctors should only be closing their offices in special circumstances. Many physicians are using virtual care (e.g., email, phone, video) to help provide care during these times. Taking advantage of these new ways of seeing your physician will help protect you and others and help get you the right care in the right place. If your doctor has closed their practice, they will need to take some steps to help you get the care you need. This may mean asking a colleague to cover, or helping you understand where to go in the system. You can help by keeping a list of your medications, health history, etc. available to share with others helping to provide care during this time.
My doctor wants to provide care virtually, what do I need to know?
Virtual care is an excellent way for doctors to provide effective care where appropriate. It is already used across the province to provide care where resources may not be available and is being rolled out province-wide to improve access to care, provide a more convenient option to patients, and to streamline doctors work so that they can see more patients. During a public health emergency, such as the one with COVID-19, virtual care options enable physicians to provide care to patients without in-person interactions that could expose themselves or others to the virus. Of course, virtual care is not appropriate all the time and some care will need to be provided in person. Depending on the technology your doctor uses, you will be able to participate in virtual care over the phone, on your smartphone, or through your computer. If you’re not able to participate in virtual care or are not comfortable doing so, please let you doctor know.
The Importance of Screening, Monitoring, and Self-Isolation
I’m repeatedly being asked the same screening questions – why is that?
The screening questions are for the safety of everyone involved, including yourself, health care providers, and other patients. While it may be frustrating to answer the same questions repeatedly, it’s important to do so.
I’m worried about answering the screening questions – will I still be able to be treated if I have recently travelled or been in contact with someone with COVID-19?
It is extremely important that you answer all of the screening questions being asked completely and honestly. This is for your own protection, and also the protection of the health care providers working with you and other patients that you might encounter.
Answering the screening questions honestly, for example sharing that you’ve recently travelled, will not mean you will be denied care or not be treated. It just means that the way care is provided to you may change to help ensure that you and everyone else involved are appropriately protected.
What should I do if I’ve recently returned from a trip outside Canada or if I think I’ve been exposed to someone with COVID-19?
The federal government has issued a clear directive that anyone returning home from outside of Canada needs to quarantine (self-isolate) for 14 days. If you’ve been in close contact with someone who has or is suspected to have COVID-19, you need to do the same. More information is available on the Health Canada website.
I’m have COVID-19 symptoms or have been exposed to the virus, but I require medication. Should I go to the pharmacy to get my medication?
No. Call your pharmacy and let them know so they can help you determine the best way to get your medication. If needed, your doctor can fax or call in the prescription to a pharmacy of your choice and then the pharmacy can coordinate with you for a delivery of your medication or to have a family member, friend, etc. pick-up the prescription on your behalf. If you have or are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 t’s really important that you not visit the pharmacy and put other patients or pharmacy professionals at risk, especially as pharmacy professionals often do not have access to personal protective equipment.
I’ve heard about some drugs that might be able to help treat COVID-19. If I’m concerned about an exposure to the virus, should I ask my doctor about these drugs?
No. The drugs being talked about in the media have an intended use and over-prescribing them will lead to drug shortages and will compromise care for other patients who need them. Additionally, should these or other drugs prove useful in combating COVID-19 their use will need to carefully managed and preserved for those who need them the most. If a drug is found to be helpful in treating COVID-19 it will be made available through appropriate channels.
Prevention and Treatment
Where do I go get tested? Why is my doctor sending me somewhere else to get tested? We understand that your relationship with your doctor is important and that in times of stress a familiar and reassuring face can help you navigate your options.
If you are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, (e.g., fever, cough, difficulty breathing), going to your physician’s office may put them and other patients at risk. Do not show up to your doctor’s office unannounced. Call ahead and get screened to see if it is appropriate to go to their office, go elsewhere, or maybe see your doctor virtually.
Completing the province’s self-assessment tool will also help you and your physician understand where it’s best for you to be seen.
Testing for COVID-19 can only be done if special tools are available and procedures are put in place and so isn’t available at all offices. To help ensure patients get the right care and to help keep others safe, a number of assessment centres have been set up to conduct testing around the province. Once you’ve been tested, there is also an online portal where you can review the results quickly at the comfort of your own home.
Do I need a mask if I don’t have symptoms?
Our public health officials are generally advising that wearing a non-medical or homemade mask may provide an added layer of protection, particularly when physical (social) distancing is not possible.
It’s important though to remember that a mask is not 100% effective and may provide a false sense of security. You still need to limit outings, implement physical (social) distancing, and practice good hygiene while wearing a mask. In particular, you should keep your hands away from your face and keep your mask clean.
It is absolutely critical that you not wear medical grade masks (including N95 masks). These masks are in short supply and are needed by our frontline health care providers so that they can continue to protect us.
My doctor is asking me to bring and wear a mask to my appointment – do I have to?
Yes. The more we can do to help limit the spread of the virus the better, especially as the system starts to provide non-essential care again. Masks are available for purchase from a variety of sources and there are many resources online for how to make your own. If you have a health condition that makes it difficult to wear a mask, explain this to your doctor (or their staff) so they understand why you are not able to wear one.
I was in a waiting area that was completely full of people. I thought the guidance was to stay 6 feet away from people with symptoms?
Doctors have and will continue to be make changes to their practice that will help patients, staff, and themselves to practice physical (social) distancing. Of course, sometimes despite our best efforts a few delays can add up and patients might need to wait longer than planned putting pressure on the systems put in place to help keep people out of waiting rooms. If you find yourself in one of these situations, be patient and work with those around you to do the best you can and practice good hand hygiene.