These Are the Doctor's Appointments to Keep — and Cancel — During the COVID-19 Outbreak

As healthcare professionals work tirelessly to treat COVID-19 patients, we've been directed to practice social distancing in order to slow the spread of the deadly pandemic. Naturally, social gatherings have been called off or moved online, and bars and restaurants have closed their doors — but it's been less clear which doctor's appointments we should keep and which ones can be safely postponed until further notice.

"The only appointments to keep now and for the foreseeable future are those related to a serious or life-threatening problem that is acute, happening right now, and that will put you in the hospital in the next three weeks if you don't keep it," Steven Quay, MD, PhD, a physician-scientist and author based in Seattle, told POPSUGAR.

Similarly, if you need to have an infected tooth pulled, Dr. Quay said that's an appointment that should be kept. But your regular six-month cleaning should be skipped. He also noted that many people take important medications in order to stay healthy and are concerned about their prescriptions running out. Fortunately, you should still be able to reach your doctor if you need a refill, and may even be able to have your prescriptions delivered. If that's not an option or insurance won't cover the cost, Dr. Quay recommends going to the pharmacy — but that should be your last resort, as every time we leave our homes, we're increasing the risk of either contracting COVID-19 or inadvertently exposing others to the virus. (Many people who are infected don't experience any symptoms, but are still contagious.)

Specialists say there are certain exceptions, such as follow-up visits if you've recently had surgery. For example, Yuna Rapaport, MD, MPH, an ophthalmologist at Manhattan Eye, advised keeping post-operative visits. If you recently had surgery and don't have a post-operative visit scheduled, the only reason to make an appointment is if you're experiencing issues or complications such as redness or pain. And although many routine appointments can be done virtually, that's not the case for patients who require certain routine procedures. "Patients with retinal swelling from their macular degeneration or diabetic edema who receive intravitreal injections should keep those appointments," Dr. Rapaport said. But when it comes to routine glasses and contact lens checks, those appointments should be postponed. Regular appointments addressing dry eye and chronic allergic conjunctivitis can be done through a telemedicine consult or phone call.

Similarly, Nelya Lobkova, DPM, a board-certified podiatrist and founder of Step Up Footcare in New York City, told POPSUGAR that she's kept her practice open for post-operative and emergency appointments. As a healthcare provider, she sees it as doing her part by alleviating the burden of foot and ankle ailments from local hospitals and urgent care centers, which are struggling to keep up with the rapidly growing number of COVID-19 cases. For example, Dr. Lobkova recently treated a child with an infected ingrown toenail that required an urgent in-office procedure. "She went to the hospital before coming to me, and due to the overwhelmed healthcare system, was instructed to do daily soaks without the necessary procedure attempted in the emergency room," Dr. Lobkova said. "I was able to provide proper care in a safe and clean environment with no other patients in the office due to proper scheduling."

If you have a chronic illness that requires frequent appointments and check-ups, it may seem unclear whether or not your routine visits are necessary. Tania Elliott, MD, an immunologist and telemedicine expert, told POPSUGAR that people with chronic illnesses should call their doctors to see if their appointments can be switched to a telemedicine appointment. "It's very important for us to not forget about managing our chronic diseases during this pandemic," Dr. Elliott said. "People should make sure they have an appropriate supply of medications (at least 60 days) and continue to stay in contact with their doctor."

Of course, all people — whether chronically ill or not — should reach out via email or by phone to their doctor if they have questions or concerns about upcoming appointments.