The outbreak of novel coronavirus in the U.S. has seen schools closed, trips canceled, families quarantined and everyday life plans put on hold. At doctors’ offices across the country, warnings about COVID-19 testing and what to do if you are experiencing symptoms are plastered on doors and walls, but not much is being said about whether you should keep your routine appointments if you are otherwise healthy.
“I would recommend keeping these appointments for most people,” Dr. Richard Beers, chair of the American Society of Anesthesiologists Committee on Occupational Health, told Fox News. “For elderly patients or those with significant medical conditions that limit their reserve, the most prudent advice at this time is to call the physician’s office and follow his/her advice.”
For those patients, their physician may decide that a telemedicine visit conducted via phone or video conference is a safer option, he said.
Beers said healthy individuals who have scheduled outpatient procedures are generally considered safe to keep their appointments, but anyone who has come back from a country deemed to be at high risk for COVID-19, or who has had exposure to a suspected case, should postpone surgery for at least 14 days.
“This is important even if you do not have symptoms such as fever, cough, difficulty breathing and malaise,” he said. “The CDC recommends that these patients stay home for 14 days, monitor their health, and practice social distancing.”
For regular appointments, Beers recommends practicing good hand hygiene after touching environmental surfaces and using proper cough and sneezing etiquette. Anyone who is still concerned about what may be lurking in a physicians’ waiting room is encouraged to contact their doctor directly to discuss their concerns.
“As with any medical decision, the risks and benefits must be considered,” Beers said, of possibly postponing an outpatient procedure amid the outbreak. “One must decide whether the risks of waiting (not intervening surgically) outweigh the risks of going ahead with the procedure, given the patient’s medical status, the nature of the condition being treated, and the nature of the planned procedure and anesthesia.”
Beers said that even patients who have tested positive for COVID-19 may not have the luxury of postponing procedures until the virus clears. Beers added that the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) has released recommendations for these instances.
“ASA recommends the patient call ahead to find out if the hospital or surgery center has a specified entrance for infected patients,” he said. “The patient should wear an N95 mask while inside the facility. Their procedure should be done in an airborne infection isolation room rather than in an operating room. However, if that is not possible, the procedure should be scheduled at a time when the smallest number of patients and health care workers will be present in the surgical suite. In either case, the patient should continue to wear an N95 mask during the procedure if general anesthesia is not required. If it is, a HEPA filter will help ensure that COVID-19 is not transmitted to health care workers.”