June 6, 2020

Winnipeg
13° C, Light rain

Full Forecast

Help us deliver reliable news during this pandemic.

We are working tirelessly to bring you trusted information about COVID-19. Support our efforts by subscribing today.

No Thanks Subscribe

Already a subscriber?

Advertisement

Advertise With Us

Opinion

Reluctance to get regular medical attention worrisome

Patients urged not to avoid normal medical treatment to steer clear of pandemic

What Dr. L. Fourie Smith remembers most is how apologetic his patient was when he finally arrived at Dakota Medical Centre earlier this week. 

The man, a lifelong smoker, was complaining of chest pains and shortness of breath. He said he hadn’t gone to the clinic earlier because he was quite sure he didn’t have COVID-19 and everyone had warned him to stay at home unless he had symptoms related to that specific virus.

MALAK ABAS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Sign at the Walk-in Connected Care Clinic at Access Winnipeg West instructs patients on how to proceed should they think they’ve contracted COVID-19. Some Winnipeg doctors are concerned that patients are putting their own health at risk by avoiding doctor's offices and clinics for fear of contracting the virus.</p>

MALAK ABAS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Sign at the Walk-in Connected Care Clinic at Access Winnipeg West instructs patients on how to proceed should they think they’ve contracted COVID-19. Some Winnipeg doctors are concerned that patients are putting their own health at risk by avoiding doctor's offices and clinics for fear of contracting the virus.

However, a closer examination and chest X-ray revealed the man was suffering from a fairly serious pneumonia. Fortunately, they caught it in time — but only just. 

"That patient, a couple of days from now, is likely in hospital, probably in an intensive care unit," said Smith, president of Doctors Manitoba. "The worst-case scenario is that he loses his life. The best-case scenario is that he survives but we’ve used up all these resources we’ll need for the pandemic that is headed our way."

Smith said provincewide, doctors are reporting a drastic reduction in the number of patients visiting family physicians and walk-in clinics. Doctors Manitoba has confirmed some physicians are laying off staff at their clinics because so few people are keeping their regular appointments.

And that has caused a new concern: that patients with chronic health problems are forgoing normal medical attention to avoid any contact with COVID-19.

"We’ve all been told to avoid each other as much as possible and to keep your social distancing, which is all quite appropriate," Smith said. "But what we maybe haven’t done is remind Manitobans that most clinics remain open and they should not stop getting treatment for their medical conditions. Doctors are not running for cover right now. We are still here for you."

A number of factors could be convincing patients to stay at home even when they are having trouble with new or chronic medical conditions. In some instances, it could be a fear that they are more likely to come into contact with someone infected with COVID-19 if they visit their doctor’s office. Or, that doctors are so busy with COVID-19 cases that they do not have time to care for patients with chronic health problems.

It’s not hard to see how those assumptions could be made. The talk-track from the province, reinforced by all public education materials and the daily COVID-19 briefing from public health officials, is to refrain from needless or baseless visits to doctors and hospitals. An early concern when the virus first hit was that panic could lead to hospitals in particular being overrun by people who did not display any of the symptoms associated with COVID-19.

There are still daily warnings against seeking a COVID-19 screening test without displaying relevant symptoms. And cautions to health-care providers not to administer a screening test without meeting provincial clinical standards. For the most part, it appears those messages are getting through to Manitobans; early reports are that people are not overrunning the health-care system with baseless concerns. However, it appears pretty obvious that there has been an unintended consequence from all that public education: a drop in visits to family physicians and walk-in clinics, even by those people who have appointments.

In a stroke of luck, innovations the province has introduced recently to provide virtual medial consultations may help keep people with chronic conditions in touch with their physicians.

The province recently approved virtual consults — either by telephone or video conference — as an insured service. This was done primarily to create some distance between potentially infected patients and their regular health-care providers so they could be diverted to specific screening locations with less overall risk. However, Smith said the virtual consults also allow people with chronic conditions to determine whether they need to make a visit to their doctor’s office.

"It’s another way you can contact your doctor’s office and ask them, ‘Do you really need to see me?’" Smith said. If a particular physician or clinic is not set up to perform a virtual consult, Smith said it still makes sense to call the physician and ask for an opinion about whether a scheduled appointment needs to be kept or whether it can be pushed back.

Smith said more needs to be done to ease the reluctance that some Manitobans have for seeking regular medical attention. Although no one can say with certainty that there aren’t any confirmed cases of coronavirus in a walk-in clinic, for the most part patients who demonstrate COVID-19 symptoms who have had exposure to other confirmed cases or travelled outside of Canada are diverted to a designated screening centre. For those who are very ill, hospital admission would take place pretty quickly.

"The same demons and dragons we’re fighting as it pertains to people’s health pre-pandemic have not gone away. My patients with diabetes are still there. My patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease are still there. All of my most vulnerable patients are there. The question remains — if I’m not seeing them, where are they?"

dan.lett@freepress.mb.ca

Dan Lett

Dan Lett
Columnist

Born and raised in and around Toronto, Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school with a lifelong dream to be a newspaper reporter.

Read full biography

Advertisement

Advertise With Us

Your support has enabled us to provide free access to stories about COVID-19 because we believe everyone deserves trusted and critical information during the pandemic.

Our readership has contributed additional funding to give Free Press online subscriptions to those that can’t afford one in these extraordinary times — giving new readers the opportunity to see beyond the headlines and connect with other stories about their community.

To those who have made donations, thank you.

To those able to give and share our journalism with others, please Pay it Forward.

The Free Press has shared COVID-19 stories free of charge because we believe everyone deserves access to trusted and critical information during the pandemic.

While we stand by this decision, it has undoubtedly affected our bottom line.

After nearly 150 years of reporting on our city, we don’t want to stop any time soon. With your support, we’ll be able to forge ahead with our journalistic mission.

If you believe in an independent, transparent, and democratic press, please consider subscribing today.

We understand that some readers cannot afford a subscription during these difficult times and invite them to apply for a free digital subscription through our Pay it Forward program.

History

Updated on Monday, March 23, 2020 at 7:44 AM CDT: Clarifies wording regarding people to be tested for COVID-19

The Free Press would like to thank our readers for their patience while comments were not available on our site. We're continuing to work with our commenting software provider on issues with the platform. In the meantime, if you're not able to see comments after logging in to our site, please try refreshing the page.

You can comment on most stories on The Winnipeg Free Press website. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

By submitting your comment, you agree to abide by our Community Standards and Moderation Policy. These guidelines were revised effective February 27, 2019. Have a question about our comment forum? Check our frequently asked questions.

Advertisement

Advertise With Us