Updated March 25, 2020
COVID-19 has, understandably, caused many patients to wonder what to expect from their physicians. 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.
The news gives me the impression that this is a really concerning issue, yet I’m being told by health care providers to remain calm but diligent.
The nature of the outbreak is continuously evolving and it’s important to remain calm but diligent in our efforts to protect each other. Widespread efforts are underway to encourage people to engage in a practice called “social distancing” where we limit unnecessary interactions with others to help limit the risk of transmission and ease the burden on the health system. The more we stay at home, practice good hygiene, and limit interactions 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.
Difficulties Seeing My Doctor
My doctor has closed their practice. How do I get the regular medical care that I need?
Doctors should only be closing their offices in special circumstances. Many physicians are now starting to use 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 is saying they can’t see me, my appointments are being cancelled, or I’m being told to wait a long time to get an appointment.
The health system is being stressed with an increase in the number of patients requiring immediate or urgent attention and with addressing the implications of a spreading virus. This will inevitably lead to longer wait times as doctors and others work to see the sickest patients first. In order to best support the increased demand and to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, the Chief Medical Officer of Health has ordered that hospitals, physicians, and other health care providers limit or delay most non-essential (or elective) care. For example, your annual physical is likely not essential at this time and resources are being shifted to focus on care that needs to be provided. This minimizes the risk of exposure to patients who do not absolutely need to be seen and helps to support those who require more immediate care by ensuring the resources are there to help them.
We understand this can be frustrating, but it’s important for health care providers to focus on patients with the greatest need at this point.
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 at a distance. 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 right now, virtual care options enable physicians to provide care to patients without in-person interactions that could expose themselves or others to the virus. 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, please let you doctor know.
I’m being asked for a sick note/clearance to work note from my employer, but my doctor has declined to provide one. What should I do?
Coming to your doctor’s office for a sick note or to have them assess you and give you clearance to return to work may be difficult during times like this. It may be safer for yourself, your doctor, and other patients if you do not go to their office. In fact, the provincial government has changed the rules so that employers cannot ask you for a sick note at this time and all levels of government have committed to helping workers who are experiencing challenges as a result of the pandemic.
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 self-isolate for 14 days.
If you have no symptoms, but think you might have been exposed to the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 you should self-monitor for 14 days.
If you have no symptoms, but know you’ve come into close contact with someone with COVID-19 you should self-isolate for 14 days.
More information on the differences between self-monitoring, self-isolation and isolation and when it’s right to do so can be found online.
I’m self-isolating or in isolation, but I require regular medication. Should I go to the pharmacy to get my medication?
No. Call your pharmacy and let them know. 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. It’s really important that you not visit the pharmacy and put other patients or pharmacy professionals at risk, especially as pharmacy professionals do not have access to any personal protective equipment.
I’ve heard that drugs like hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin 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. These drugs 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.
Prevention and Treatment
I think I have COVID-19 symptoms. What should I do and why is my doctor telling me not to come to their office, but go somewhere else?
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.
To help ensure patients get the right care and to help keep others safe, a number of centres have been set up to help assess patients who have the symptoms or risk factors (e.g., recent travel). Please do not visit an assessment centre unless you have symptoms (i.e., fever and a cough). It’s very important that patients who have symptoms be seen and tested first and you put yourself at risk if you visit these centres when you don’t need to. Your doctor, Telehealth (1-866-797-0000) or your local public health unit can help direct you to the right place.
Why can’t my doctor test me? Where do I go to get tested?
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. Testing is being facilitated by dedicated centres, many of which are being designated and/or announced. Public Health and Ministry of Health will provide updates as this situation evolves. Please do not visit an assessment centre unless you have symptoms. These centres have been set up to help test and support those who have symptoms (i.e., fever, cough, difficulty breathing) and not intended to assure people that they don’t have the virus. You put yourself at risk by doing so and it’s important to prioritize testing for those showing symptoms.
Do I need a mask if I don’t have symptoms? Why are masks hard to find?
While many think that masks are helpful, in fact if you do not have symptoms they are not appropriate and could be more harmful then not having one.
All public health authorities have been clear that good hygiene will help reduce your risk of infection:
- wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after using the washroom and when preparing food
- use alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available
- when coughing or sneezing: cough or sneeze into a tissue or the bend of your arm, not your hand
- dispose of any tissues you have used as soon as possible in a lined waste basket and wash your hands afterwards
- avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands
- avoid close contact with people who are sick and with groups of people. This is what social distancing means. We all need to do our part.
It’s also critical that we save any masks that are available for the health care workers that are on the frontlines working to manage this virus. They need protection to help protect us.
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?
Pre-screening patients over the phone and redirecting them if needed will continue to help keep those who might have COVID-19 out of physician’s offices and directed to centres that are best equipped to assess patients.
As with above, good hygiene is essential to help manage situations like this.