Consumer Reports: Seeking medical care during COVID-19 pandemic

People have been putting off going to the doctor, getting vaccines and even going to the ER because they're worried about COVID-19.

But as Consumer Reports explains, it's important to get the medical care you need, even during a pandemic.

For weeks, Charley Bednarsh was experiencing persistent back pain and shortness of breath, but she decided not to see a doctor.

"I felt that I wasn't sick. I just didn't want to go to the hospital and use up the resources," she said.

Atticus, her trained therapy dog, sensing something might be wrong, started howling constantly. Charley finally decided to call her cardiologist who convinced her to go to the ER.

"She said, 'you suffered like a major heart attack.' And I'm thinking, 'you're talking to me?" she said.

Charley is not alone. Almost half of Americans said they or a family member skipped or put off medical care because of the coronavirus pandemic.

"People should not ignore serious symptoms," said Consumer Reports Health Editor Kevin Loria. "If you are experiencing a medical emergency, including signs of a heart attack or a stroke, call 911, or go to the ER immediately."

If you're unsure if you should go in for a screening test, office visit, checkup or procedure, give your doctor's office a call.

"They can let you know whether if you should come in or not," Loria said. "The same applies with contacting your kids' pediatrician office about keeping up with vaccines."

Going to the doctor will likely look and feel different. Beforehand, you may also be screened for COVID-19 symptoms by phone or email, and your temperature might be checked before stepping in the door.

When you do arrive at the doctor's office, you may be asked to come alone and wait in the parking lot instead of the waiting room.

"You should also take the same precautions when going to your doctor's office as you would going elsewhere else in public, so wear a mask, try to stay at least 6-foot away from other people, don't touch your face, and washing your hands or using hand sanitizer after touching anything," Loria said.

After her surgery, Charley has returned to the hospital several times for follow-up visits and has felt safe every time.

"If you are experiencing anything that's different, at least make the call," she said.

You can also expect a lot of the same changes at your dentist's office. People who need crowns replaced, fillings, and bridges might take priority over those who are due for a cleaning. So, if you have to delay that cleaning, remember to brush and floss regularly.

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