Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash
Although hand hygiene, social distancing and masking are key actions to avoid infectious diseases such as COVID-19, it is also important to seek prompt evaluation and treatment for any other health concerns.
Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash Although hand hygiene, social distancing and masking are key actions to avoid infectious diseases such as COVID-19, it is also important to seek prompt evaluation and treatment for any other health concerns.

Reports indicate nearly one-third of U.S. adults have avoided seeking medical care because they are worried about contracting COVID-19, and experts are concerned about deaths from non-COVID-19 illnesses that could be due to people not seeking treatment. This trend is alarming.

As a physician, I will always encourage people to be active participants in their health and healthcare. While staying healthy is understandably a top priority for all of us right now, it is also a time when many people might be tempted to minimize and deprioritize symptoms of serious illness. Although hand hygiene, social distancing and masking are key actions to avoid infectious diseases such as COVID-19, it is also important to seek prompt evaluation and treatment for any other health concerns. This includes care for yourself and for those you love. 

Here are some important considerations to protect your health:

1. Don’t ignore symptoms.

A single symptom could be just that, or it could be an indication of a more systemic health condition.

Though not always the case for every concern, it is often better to identify the cause of symptoms sooner rather than wait until they progress.

Pay attention to changes in your body; you know your body best. An acute increase in symptoms, a new symptom that persists, or something that persists and then increases could all be causes for concern. Don’t hesitate to reach out to your health care provider when concerns arise.

2. Get it checked out now, for better future outcomes.

Delayed care can result in a need for more involved treatment later. Diseases such as cancer are a prime example of this.  It is important to have routine, recommended screenings for diseases such as cancer, especially if you are at increased risk.  With regular screenings, diseases can be detected earlier and result in better health outcomes.

 3. If you have chronic disease, regular check-ins are essential.

For those living with and managing chronic disease, a change in daily life patterns, including eating habits, exercise routines and social activities, can leave you stressed and vulnerable to developing new or increased symptoms. Make sure to keep up your regular check-ins with your health care team to ensure you are taking the best actions to optimize your health. 

Health care facilities have COVID-19 prevention top of mind. Here at Virginia Mason, we rigorously screen patients for symptoms and have a separate entrance for those with respiratory illness.  We provide masks to all patients and visitors upon arrival. We’ve arranged our waiting areas to provide at least six feet of distance between patients. And of course, we always have intensive cleaning processes in place including disinfecting all surfaces and handles in exam rooms after each patient visit.

There are virtual options for care available as well. Call or send portal messages to talk with care team members and determine if virtual care or in-person is optimal for you. And, if you prefer in-person visits, be certain to tell the team member of this preference, and they will advise accordingly.

We encourage you to continue seeking medical care even in the time of COVID-19 to protect your health and the health of your family, whether it’s virtually or in-person.

Donna Smith, M.D., MBA, is executive medical director and associate chief medical officer of Virginia Mason Medical Center. Previously serving in multiple medical leadership roles at Virginia Mason, she is responsible for oversight of the health care system’s hospital and clinics. Dr. Smith is board-certified by the American Board of Pediatrics and also specializes in primary care and pediatrics. She practices at Virginia Mason University Village Medical Center.