When Gov. Janet Mills declared a civil emergency due to COVID-19 last Sunday, she recommended that people in Maine postpone all non-urgent medical procedures, elective surgeries, and appointments at hospitals and health care providers until further notice. This is being done because keeping people out of hospitals and health care settings can help to reduce the spread of coronavirus and help to keep them safe by avoiding potential contact with those who are ill.
We appreciate the collective efforts of our health care partners around the state and their desire to keep people safe, though also want to ensure that patients with significant medical needs continue to get the care they need, while limiting their potential exposure to coronavirus as much as possible. Postponing non-urgent procedures and elective surgeries also allows the health care system to preserve personal protective equipment such as gowns, gloves and masks, and frees up hospital beds for patients who may become ill from COVID-19.
This is why the Maine Department of Health and Human Services offers brief guidance on how people can limit their potential exposure to COVID-19 in health care settings, while ensuring that they get the medical care they need.
Non-urgent or elective care is generally considered to be any health care office visit, test, procedure or treatment that can be safely delayed without creating a threat to a person’s health or safety. Some examples of non-urgent care might be annual physical exams, some X-rays, routine dental cleanings or previously scheduled doctor’s appointments for routine issues.
At the same time, individuals who have chronic or serious conditions might still need to keep scheduled visits with their health care provider to ensure that they’re getting needed care, including care for conditions such as heart disease, diabetes or asthma. When such care is needed and can’t safely be delayed, it can still be appropriate to come into health care settings for care, while following general recommendations for maintaining social distancing where possible, washing hands frequently, and wearing a mask if you have an active cough or fever.
Additionally, many health care providers now also have the ability to see patients through telehealth visits, often using technology as common as a home computer or smartphone.
The best way for individuals to decide how, when and whether they need non-urgent care is to check with your health care provider and to follow their recommendations. Patients are encouraged to call their health care provider to ask first, and to communicate with their provider if they feel they have a health care need that can’t wait.
Calling your provider ahead of going to a health care setting is particularly important if you have a cough or fever, as they may want you to go to a specific location to be seen. And as always, if you are having a medical emergency such as chest pain or severe shortness of breath, it’s always best to call 911 and be sure to get the help you need urgently.
We appreciate the challenges that this epidemic presents to our communities and are committed to supporting best practices and public health approaches to slow the spread of COVID-19 in Maine. We are a strong and resilient state, and with the help of everyone, we will get through this extraordinary challenge by working together to support the health of our communities and our state.
Lisa Letourneau is a clinical adviser at the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.