Putting off routine screenings or ignoring health worries have become more common during COVID-19. But doctors agree that it is safe – and important – to get the care you need.

Dr. Alicia Brooks smiles in a white lab coat.
Dr. Alicia Brooks

“The schedule we use for preventative screenings is rooted in evidence and it’s designed to catch things early,” said Dr. Alicia Brooks at Novant Health Salem Family Medicine. “Don’t fall into the trap of only going to the doctor when you don’t feel well.”

People who postpone care may experience longer hospital stays or worse outcomes, doctors say, as delayed treatment may lead to a worsening condition. Skipping preventative screenings can also be harmful. Annual screenings such as mammograms and colonoscopies are still the best way to catch cancer early when treatment is less invasive, and outcomes are better.

“Take colon or breast cancer, for example. When you find it early, there’s a lot we can do,” Brooks said. “If you wait until you have symptoms, a lot of times that means it’s progressed to a point where it’s going to be more involved to treat it. Sometimes, things progress beyond the point where it’s curable.”

Other patients, like those with Type 2 diabetes, have a lot to manage – from medication to nutrition. Continuing to exercise and eat well is important to staying on top of their health journey. This story shares a few practical tips.

Also, annual doctor visits can help you manage chronic conditions like Type 2 diabetes and others. Staying on top of these conditions is far better for your health than losing ground and trying to fight your way back.

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Let’s set the record straight around worries that cause people to postpone doctors’ appointments:

1. Worries about safety. Novant Health has high-level safety protocols in place in every clinic. “Screening and cleaning” is Novant Health’s mantra now. Doctors’ offices look completely different from they did before COVID-19. Chairs are spaced apart in the waiting room to allow for social distancing.

Brooks outlined some of the other enhanced cleaning protocols at clinics such as Novant Health Salem Family Medicine:

  • Every room is sanitized with antibacterial wipes in between patients.
  • The front desk is sanitized after patients leave the counter.
  • Signs on the chairs indicate whether or not it has been sanitized.
  • All patients and team members must wear masks and get their temperature taken.
  • Clinics are cleaned nightly by a cleaning crew.

And if it’s feasible for your health care provider to “see” you via a phone or video visit, that’s the first thing you’ll be offered. Health care workers are on the front lines of this fight, and they want to minimize their contact with others as much as possible. A no-contact visit keeps you and them safe.

2. Worries that emergency rooms, hospitals and clinics are filled with COVID-19 patients. They’re not. Concern that an ER waiting room is going to be crowded with COVID-19 patients is understandable – but inaccurate.

Previously, visitors were not allowed in the ER – including the waiting room. However, as coronavirus levels decline in our communities, updated visitor restrictions rules are in place. The new rules allow for most adults and children hospitalized at Novant Health facilities in North Carolina to have two visitors per day. Visitors are required to wear masks and pass COVID-19 screening questions upon entering the facility.

Restrictions remain in place for COVID-19 positive patients who are hospitalized or in the emergency room, as well as patients who may be suspected of having COVID-19.

3. Worries about cost. That’s another understandable concern, especially after millions of Americans lost their job in the downturn that followed the coronavirus. Accessing and paying for health care is confusing, even with the most robust of health insurance plans. Unlike anything else you pay for – from a car to college tuition – with health care, you sometimes don’t know in advance what your out-of-pocket costs will be. Your insurance plan, deductible, copay and annual income (if you don't have insurance coverage) all factor into the fee. It's always going to be complicated as long as there are deductibles and insurance plans involved.

But Novant Health is going the extra mile to help make this deterrent to getting care less onerous. Our financial navigators have one job: to help you do what previously seemed impossible. And that’s estimate the cost of your care for a procedure or hospital stay.

In North and South Carolina, call 336-277-7299 (or toll-free 1-888-277-3901), Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. In Virginia, call 703-369-8020, Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Voicemail is available for after-hours or weekend calls.

No one should delay getting medical attention for fear of not being able to pay for it. Whether or not you have insurance, let our financial navigators help you figure out costs. They’re also ready to help get you with a payment plan, if necessary.

They are well-versed in screening uninsured patients for eligibility in state and federal programs, such as Medicaid. They understand the eligibility requirements and can help navigate patients through the confusing application process. They can also help with charity applications for patients who have serious medical needs and limited or no health coverage for their urgent care.

Schedule today to get the checkups, screenings, and treatment you need to live a healthy, active life.