While COVID-19 may have eclipsed other illnesses, it hasn’t eliminated them.

And Novant Health hospitals, emergency rooms, Novant Health GoHealth Urgent Care Centers and doctors’ offices are still treating patients on a daily basis. Even though the current stay-at-home order allows for medical appointments, some people are still reluctant to see their physician.

Dr. Genevieve Brauning, a family medicine doctor at Novant Health SouthPark Family Physicians in Charlotte, understands patients’ hesitation. And she and others are working to address it. Their message: Don’t wait; reach out to your doctor or seek care if you need it.

Brauning  virt
Dr. Genevieve Brauning

“We’re offering phone and video consultations,” she said. “Most visits are being done by video now. And we’re being proactive in reaching out to patients who have risk factors for COVID. We’re letting them know what the COVID symptoms are and urging them to call us if they develop any.”

While video visits are the preferred route at the moment, you can still see a physician if you need one, Brauning said. “We have safety protocols in place,” she said. “We have layers of protection and are taking extra precautions.” Many offices have areas that separate sick and well patients. It’s now common for doctors to meet patients in the parking lot.

Brauning’s office is calling patients with chronic conditions. “If you have diabetes and you canceled a scheduled office visit, we’re going to make sure we’re in touch,” she said. 

If you do visit an office, Your doctor’s office is going to look different. For instance:

  • If you’re not already wearing a mask when you arrive, you’ll be given one.
  • Every staff member will be wearing a mask.
  • Waiting rooms have been reconfigured to allow for 6 feet between every chair.
  • Staff members are sterilizing just about everything after a single use – chairs, pens, you name it.
  • Forms and prescriptions are being sent electronically to reduce the need to pass paper back and forth.

Doing the right thing

Social-distancing measures are working, Brauning said. But even that good news comes tinged with bad news. “Our anticipated peak keeps moving further and further out,” she said. The Charlotte area is now expected to experience peak demand for hospital beds in late June – if social distancing continues. Initially, the peak was projected to hit between mid-April and mid-May.

Brauning and her colleagues are used to treating patients holistically, and that includes addressing mental health. “That’s a common theme for all patients now,” she said. Most insurance plans are covering the costs of video visits now, she said. And she reminds patients of that.

She has diagnosed some patients with coronavirus. None of her patients has been sick enough to require hospitalization, and many have already fully recovered. “We monitor those patients daily and are prepared to direct them to the ER or a respiratory clinic if their symptoms worsen,” she said.

Hospitals also have multiple new layers of safety protocols for patients who come into the ER or are admitted. Still, far fewer patients are coming in, which can be bad news for those who need help but don’t get it.

Delaying seeking help could make your condition worse, make treatment less effective and increase your recovery time. COVID-19 is dominating our lives right now. But don’t let it keep you from seeking medical help when you really need it.

Find the latest on COVID-19 here.

TOP PHOTO: Novant Health doctors are meeting patients in parking lots, if necessary, to provide the care that's needed.

North Carolina residents who are in emotional distress – or would like guidance on helping someone they know who is struggling – can call a free 24-hour helpline at 800-718-3550 to speak with a counselor. The service, provided by Novant Health, connects callers with a master’s level therapist who can offer immediate guidance and help determine possible next steps, which could include a further assessment or connection to community resources for those in need.