Is It Safe to Go to the Doctor?

Why you don't have to fear getting preventive, routine or emergency care.

By: Laura Paton Healthy Living July 9, 2020
is-it-safe-to-go-to-doctor.jpg

The past several months of restrictions and precautions due to the COVID-19 pandemic caused many people to delay doctor’s appointments.

While these restrictions are now lifted, you may be wondering if it’s safe to go to the doctor.

We asked Rush experts to answer that question — and to explain why you don’t have to worry about seeking preventive, routine or emergency care for yourself or your family.

What precautions is Rush taking to keep patients safe?

“We want to assure you that right now is a safe time to see your doctor, go to the hospital or go to an urgent care clinic for needs like diagnostic testing, in-office treatments and surgery,” says Steven Rothschild, MD, a family medicine physician at Rush.

Rush University Medical Center — one of 35 medical centers in the nation designated by the Centers for Disease Control as having the highest standards in infection control — has adopted extensive precautions to minimize your risk of exposure to COVID-19 when you come to any of our locations.

Here’s what Rush is doing to keep everyone safe:

Universal measures

  • Masking: When going to the doctor during COVID-19, it’s important to be safe and take measures to protect yourself and others — and one of the most important is wearing a mask. That’s why masks are required at all Rush locations. You should wear a mask whenever you leave your home. If you have a cloth mask, you will be given a surgical mask upon arrival at Rush to wear the entire time you are at Rush. All Rush staff members also wear masks. Check out Rush’s guide to mask usage.
  • Sanitizing: We are following stringent cleaning and disinfecting procedures in all locations, working closely with our infection control team and following federal and local guidelines. We also have hand sanitizer available at all of our locations to encourage good hand hygiene.
  • Scheduling precautions: Rush is allowing patients to schedule both in-person and virtual appointments online. For the safety of all of our patients, however, online scheduling for in-person appointments is not available for COVID-19 patients.

Patient waiting rooms

  • Social distancing: We have reconfigured all waiting rooms and common areas to ensure that seating is at least six feet apart, and everyone is practicing social distancing whenever possible.
  • Skip the waiting room: Most of our clinics now offer the opportunity for you to skip the waiting room using the My Rush app, available on the App Store or Google Play. This allows you to practice social distancing as you wait for your appointment. Before entering the clinic, click the arrival button in the My Rush app. We’ll alert you via text message when your room is ready and it’s almost time for your appointment. You can then head into the clinic and our staff will direct you to your exam room.

Clinics (including urgent care)

  • Bringing care to you: In many of our clinics, we can bring some diagnostic testing, such as blood draws, directly to your exam room rather than having you visit several different labs and locations while you’re here. This allows you to limit the amount of time you spend at our locations and have fewer interactions.
  • Cellphone parking lot: Rush offers a safe, nearby, free parking area for loved ones to comfortably stay in their cars while waiting for patients who are having appointments, tests or procedures.
  • Advance scheduling for lab tests: To limit the amount of time you have to spend waiting in the lab, you can schedule your lab tests, such as bloodwork, in advance through the My Rush app, or by calling (888) 352-RUSH (7874). Currently, this is only for Rush University Medical Center outpatient labs. Watch this video for easy instructions on how to schedule a lab appointment.

Operating rooms

  • Expanded COVID-19 testing: Rush offers point-of-care COVID-19 testing, and we are testing every surgical patient for COVID-19 before surgery. We also offer testing in our designated COVID-19 clinic for anyone who has a temperature of 100°F or higher or other symptoms of COVID-19.
  • Enhanced COVID-19 screening: We screen all patients for COVID-19 symptoms when they come in for their appointment or procedures.

Also, the Rush call center has nurses on staff who screen patients over the phone at the time of scheduling and the night before an appointment or procedure. They ask several questions about possible COVID-19 symptoms and guide patients on next steps if symptoms exist.

Emergency department

  • Isolation of COVID-19 patients: We have reconfigured our hospital to isolate COVID-19 patients in our emergency department, inpatient units and clinics to avoid contact with other patients. This has allowed us to continue providing the emergency care our communities need throughout this crisis.

Not getting prompt care — especially for potentially life-threatening problems like heart attack or stroke — can have serious consequences.

Same expertise, added convenience

In addition to making in-person visits safe, Rush is also giving patients more options for receiving care remotely.

Rush has completed over 30,000 telehealth visits for patients since the start of COVID-19. Telehealth is a great way to safely and conveniently access Rush expertise while helping to minimize the number of people at the hospital and in doctor’s offices. 

Rush offers many different telehealth options:

  • On-demand video visits: Convenient care within 20 minutes for many common conditions like allergies or acid reflux. You can also get support for coping with stress and anxiety or a return-to-work note. If you need a prescription, your virtual provider can send one to your pharmacy of choice. We also offer on-demand video visits for kids.
  • E-Visits: With E-Visits, you can answer questions about what’s bothering you, and get a response back with a treatment plan and prescriptions if needed in as little as one hour. E-Visits at Rush are also available for kids.
  • Scheduled video visits: Many of our providers are offering scheduled video visits. If you need to see your primary care doctor or a specialist but don’t need in-person care, you can talk one-on-one with your doctor via video. Scheduled video visits are also available through many Rush pediatricians.
  • Virtual second opinion: Many of our cancer specialties are now offering virtual second opinion services. Virtual second opinion is simple and secure and allows you to get the expertise of Rush providers from the comfort of your home.

In some circumstances, we may be able to do a portion of your visit virtually before you come in, which limits the amount of time you spend in our clinics overall.

Important appointments to keep

COVID-19 concerns have caused many people to delay both routine medical care, like screening tests and annual exams, and treatment for health emergencies.

But not getting prompt care — especially for potentially life-threatening problems like heart attack or stroke — can have serious consequences.

If you are having a health emergency, call 911 or visit your nearest emergency department for immediate care. “I promise you, we are here should you need us, and we will keep you safe from the coronavirus while you are here,” as emergency medicine physician Meeta Shah, MDwrote for the Chicago Tribune. “Our team will take every precaution to protect you while we care for you.”    

The same is true for non-emergency care. So while you may have had to cancel doctor’s appointments during shelter-in-place orders, Rothschild recommends getting back on track and scheduling your annual physical, routine blood tests or other care that’s part of your preventive care plan.

“Sticking to your preventive care routine can help ensure that you aren’t missing critical opportunities for early detection of serious illnesses,” says Rothschild. Talk to your primary care provider about your preventive health care needs based on your age, risk factors and health history.

If you’re currently managing a chronic illness like diabetes or high blood pressure, ask your primary care provider if you need an in-person visit or if you can check in with them using telehealth.

“If your condition is well-controlled, you may not need to go to the doctor’s office,” Rothschild says. “But if there is any question about how well-controlled your condition is, an in-person visit can be critical to adjusting your treatment plan.”

Care for kids during COVID-19

With COVID-19 concerns, we know you might be worried about taking your children to the pediatrician. However, now is an important time to make sure your children are on schedule with their care — including preventive care like vaccinations.

“We can help keep children healthy and save lives by keeping them up to date on their vaccines,” says pediatrician Melissa Holmes, MD. “If the pandemic has caused your children to get behind on their vaccines, we at Rush are here to help and get them get caught up and back on schedule.”

And it’s not just vaccines that kids may have missed these past several months by not going to the doctor — it’s the whole spectrum of care. Pediatricians chart children’s growth, make sure they’re meeting developmental milestones, diagnose and address health problems, assess for mental health issues like depression and anxiety and more.

But is it safe to go to the pediatrician right now? Absolutely, says Holmes, and that’s why things might look a little different when you arrive at the doctor’s office.

“Rush has put many precautions in place to ensure the health of you and your children,” Holmes says. “Just like you explain to your children why people are wearing masks in public these days, you can explain why things look different at the doctor’s office: It’s because we are doing our best to keep everyone healthy and to keep from spreading germs.”

As in our adult clinics, Rush pediatrics offices are requiring that everyone wears a mask, following stringent cleaning and disinfecting procedures, and spacing our chairs six feet apart in waiting rooms.

Rush also offers telehealth options for kids:

  • On-Demand video visits for kids: For health concerns where your child may not need to see a doctor in person, including allergic reaction, concern for covid-19, constipation, diarrhea, red eye, rash, wound checks and more.
  • E-Visits for kids: Fill out an online questionnaire with your child, and a provider will respond to you with a treatment plan within the hour. E-Visits are great for when you need fast, easy care for simple, specific conditions like constipation.
  • Scheduled video visits: Many of our pediatricians are offering scheduled video visits. If your child needs to see a pediatrician but doesn’t need in-person care, you and your child can talk one-on-one with your pediatrician via video.

Though fall and flu season might seem a long way away, it’s also important to ensure your children receive their annual flu vaccines when the time comes, Holmes says. “By preventing the flu through vaccination, we can help keep children healthy and help reduce additional strain on our health system during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Related Stories