Medical services are changing in response to COVID-19


What to expect when you contact your doctor or other health provider


As a physician, I am inundated by information concerning COVID-19, or coronavirus. There is often so much information that it becomes confusing and overwhelming.

COVID-19 is a virus that primarily affects the respiratory or breathing system. It enters the body through the nose, which is why that area is tested. Medical personnel use nasal swabs to get the specimen of mucus that is then sent to the laboratories looking for the virus.

There are certain guidelines for getting the test that includes the person having a fever, cough, and new-onset difficulty breathing. As of now, everyone is not getting tested because of not having enough tests available. But that is changing as more and more come available.

The elderly and persons who are medically compromised or have predisposing respiratory disease such as asthma, immune deficiency such as lupus, blood cancers like lymphoma, even arthritis to some degree, are at risk for serious illness.

We are at a critical point in confronting this disease that affects all communities, especially under-represented communities, because as African Americans we tend not to seek medical care as readily as others. In fact, history has shown that we are not rendered the same quality of care as other populations.

As I write this article, I am on a conference call that is debating which patients will be seen versus those who can be called or canceled altogether. Personally, I am ensuring that services are equitable. That said, all patients—that means you—are being considered to have the COVID-19 disease.

So, do not be threatened by the extra questions, extra gowning, and extra time that will go into a medical or dental visit. These are the necessary precautions that your medical provider has been directed to use because of the risk of exposure to the virus.

What to expect

So, what would you as a patient who has what may be a cold expect when you make an appointment to see your doctor or go to the emergency room?

  • Your call may be delayed due to the screening process, and may not get an immediate response.
  • You may not be given an appointment, or an appointment that seems to be scheduled too far away.
  • You may be asked to go to a different facility than where you usually go or even see a different doctor than you usually see.
  • You may be asked to come alone into the clinic, which can make it difficult for those who have difficulty with walking, communication difficulties, or needing an interpreter.
  • You may be asked to drive to a hospital or facility and asked to stay in your car when someone will come out and greet you to establish your health condition.
  • You may have your scheduled appointment cancelled because of a change in the spread of the disease or maybe a lack of equipment that your doctor needs.

What you can do

  • The bottom line is that you can make a difference in your health and the health of your friends and loved ones by:
  • following the guidelines distributed by local and national authorities
    practicing social distancing by staying away from crowds, especially the elderly or those who may already have medical problems
  • calling your doctor or hospital if you have a cold or have a cough, fever, or shortness of breath; they will direct you to the best care possible
  • and above all else, continuing to wash your hands, covering your cough or sneeze; and looking in on your parents, grandparents, loved ones, and friends who may not get out or may be limited by illness or poor mobility

There are numerous sources to get good information about the COVID-19, coronavirus, disease: the Minnesota Department of Health, the , the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy’s COVID-19 Resource Center.

David Hamlar MD, DDS is an assistant professor in the Department of Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery at the University of Minnesota. He specializes craniofacial skull base surgery. He attended Howard University College of Dentistry (DDS) and Ohio State University (MD), and came to Minnesota for his fellowship in facial plastic and reconstructive surgery. Besides medicine, he is a retired Minnesota National Guardsman achieving the rank of major general. His passion today is empowering students of color to achieve their dreams of entering the medical professions as well as other STEM-oriented careers.