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Open for business

Manitoba Doctors are still open to connect with patients

By Dr. José Francois
Published Monday, May 4, 2020

In days of yore, when one of my patients needed to see me, they would either pick up the phone or walk over to my office to schedule an appointment. That was back before COVID-19 came to town. Today, I worry that my patients are not calling as often as they should.

It is important that Manitobans with health concerns, either related to a new illness, or a chronic condition, continue to seek regular health care from their primary care provider.

My practice, and likely your primary care clinic as well, have made changes in the face of COVID-19 to allow us to remain open, because we know that chronic health conditions, and other illnesses, are not taking a break. As Manitoba progressively re-opens this week, primary care clinics will also begin to increase the number of patients coming through their doors.

Many primary care clinics have adjusted their approach to care at this time which starts, much as it did before COVID-19, with a phone call. If you have a health concern, call your primary care clinic to get advice on what to do next. From there, we can determine the best way to provide care to you – either virtually or in person.

A great example to consider is a change in symptoms related to a chronic condition – like asthma. As the snow melts and we await a few more good rains, many asthma sufferers may find their condition worsening due to environmental triggers.  If their symptoms are different from what they are used to, or if regular medications are not effective, patients should call their primary care provider.

Depending on how severe a patient's symptoms are, our first discussion would likely be over the phone or by videoconference. If appropriate, a patient may have a change or addition to their medication and would schedule a follow-up, a few days to a week later to ensure that the patient's symptoms are improving.

If an initial consultation and plan do not improve a patient's condition, or if there are other concerns, we would take additional measures together to continue working to resolve their concerns. That could include a visit to the clinic to do a physical assessment, conducting tests.

All health services are taking extra precautions at this time to keep you safe, this includes primary care offices. These precautions include reducing the number of people in the waiting room, implementing extra cleaning practices and using personal protective equipment such as masks to protect you as well as themselves.

In addition to addressing new health issues, it is important to see your provider for maintenance of chronic conditions, and preventative care such as immunizations. The last thing we want is to leave anyone vulnerable to other illnesses, like measles, if they miss a regularly scheduled vaccination. If you or your child has a routine immunization scheduled in the coming weeks or months don't reschedule because of the current situation.

Like physician services, consultations with other staff members (from nursing staff to mental health practitioners to dietitians) have also moved virtually. You can continue to arrange for those consultations by calling your primary care clinic. During this period however, some appointments, such as complete physical exams for individuals who are otherwise healthy, may be rescheduled if they can be safely delayed.

Of course, not all medical concerns present themselves during business hours, and sometimes they just can't wait. As always, any person who is experiencing very concerning symptoms, or who has a new, severe, health concern such as chest pain, severe head pain, or trauma, should call 911 for immediate help. If you have symptoms that are concerning and you are not sure where to do, you can contact your primary care clinic's doctor on call or Health Links – Info Santé.  They can help you to determine what health-care option is best for you, such as an Urgent Care, or a walk-in clinic like our five Walk-in Connected Care Centres.

We are still here for you.  Just because COVID-19 has changed the way we connect with you, it doesn't mean our health services have changed. Manitoba's primary care clinic teams, your family physicians, nurse-practitioners, nurses and mental health counselors, dietitians and more, remain available to support you.

José Francois is the Provincial Specialty Lead, Family Medicine, Shared Health. This column was published in the Winnipeg Free Press on Monday, May 4, 2020.

Patients who have, or may have COVID-19, should always call their primary care clinic ahead of time to make sure their clinic has masks and the protective equipment needed to proceed safely with a in in-person consultation.

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