Manitoba physicians say the number of people visiting medical offices and clinics has dropped dramatically since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, and they fear that could lead to bigger problems later.
Doctors Manitoba says a survey of its members earlier this month indicates only half as many patients have been coming in for medical care during the pandemic.
The group’s president, Dr. Fourie Smith, says Manitobans should not let fear of contracting COVID-19 stop them from seeking medical attention.
“Going to your doctor’s office is as safe as going anywhere else, perhaps even more so,” said Smith, pointing to physical distancing and other safety measures that have been put in place.
“Clinics get cleaned very extensively at the end of every day, and all the surfaces get wiped down every hour.”
Smith says avoiding treatment for issues that might seem minor now could result in more people heading to hospital later with problems that could have been avoided.
“Please do not put your health on hold,” said Smith, who worries an increase in non-coronavirus cases in Manitoba hospitals could lead to an additional healthcare crisis.
“When in doubt, phone your physician’s office. And let’s make sure we take care of you. Because if we don’t there’s going to be a price to pay down the road. And we really want to avoid that at all costs.”
Smith says some Manitobans might also be staying away over concerns of putting strain on the medical system, but he advises against deciding for yourself whether your condition is urgent.
“You might think, ‘my blood sugar is just not looking good today. How bad can that be?’ Well, it can end up being pretty bad in certain circumstances. So please don’t take the chance.”
Doctors Manitoba represents 3,000 physicians in the province. The association says it’s trying to work with the government to expand virtual care, a service often needed to assess vulnerable patients, such as senior citizens, people with chronic conditions, and those with mental health or substance abuse issues.
Patients do not need a computer to consult a doctor.
“If you can use a telephone and I can hear your voice, there’s a lot we can do,” said Smith, who is also a family physician.
He says he’s now conducting about half of his appointments remotely, and says a simple phone call can help determine whether someone needs immediate care, or whether virtual visits will do.
“What we put on hold now, we will pay for later,” said Smith.
“Let’s help you stay healthy through this COVID-19 pandemic.”
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