RICHMOND HILL, Ga. (WSAV) — A big worry on just about everyone’s mind these days is becoming infected with COVID-19.

Those heightened concerns could explain why some medical experts, like SouthCoast Health physician Dr. Rebecca Sellers, have noticed a recent decline in patients visiting their offices.

“Particularly, if you already have an underlying disorder, it’s been really rough for a lot of people, including the health care providers and health care team,” Sellers told NOW.

She’s noticed people are postponing important visits for annual physical exams and even the crucial monitoring of chronic illnesses like thyroid disease.

“In some ways, it’s completely understandable due to the anxiety that coming to the doctor brings, but there are several things we do need to make sure are controlled; things like high blood pressure and diabetes, those are risk factors,” Sellers said.

“From a mental and physical health standpoint, it’s great to check in with our patients [to ensure] that things are going okay,” she added. 

She urges people not to let their checkups fall by the wayside, as those preventative appointments can help catch problems early. 

Don’t forget to stay on top of having your children examined, too, Sellers recommends.

“Definitely, the physician offices that see mostly kids have seen a lot of numbers come down from office visits, and again, that’s postponing well-child checks or sports physicals,” she said.

Pros and cons of telehealth

For those that have been wary of entering doctor’s offices during the pandemic, virtual visits via cell phone, computer or tablet have been a decent alternative, Sellers noted. 

“There are certain things in particular where a virtual visit is very appropriate,” she said. “Not only are we offering that for acute issues, so ‘hey, I feel sick,’ but also from a chronic perspective, particularly if you’re able to check your blood pressure at home; we can do a follow-up for that, just kind of seeing how your numbers have been.”

However, telemedicine isn’t a perfect substitute for in-person visits.

“It gets a little difficult if there are labs that we might need or where a physical exam is so important, like with abdominal or lower pelvic pain, something like that where I really would prefer an exam,” Seller said.

With the arrival of summer comes the need for skin cancer checks, she adds, encouraging everyone to wear sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30.

It can be tricky to examine potentially cancerous spots on the skin through a screen, she notes.

“It’s hard for me to do from a virtual standpoint,” Seller said.

Consequences of delaying doctor’s visits

She says waiting too long to get checked out can worsen certain chronic conditions — even potentially resulting in death. 

Sellers has seen it happen during her occasional rounds at St. Joseph’s/Candler.

“[Some] folks haven’t been going in for their routine heart failure follow-ups or COPD management,” she said. “The number-one reason for admission into hospitals is for COPD or heart failure exacerbations, so if we’re able to make sure that those conditions are managed and not getting out of control, then it can prevent a hospitalization in a time when you’re really trying to avoid the hospital.”

Taking precautions during your visit

In light of the pandemic, the majority of physician offices are taking steps to protect workers and patients entering the building, starting with preventing anyone who is sick with COVID-19 from coming inside.

“They’re being very respectful to the concerns that everybody has with the screening questions, temperature checks and having every room scrubbed down before you go in,” Sellers said.

She says anyone with concerns about visiting can simply call ahead and ask about COVID-19 preventative measures.

“Just say, ‘are there certain procedures that y’all have before I’d come?’” Sellers said.

“We want everybody to feel safe coming in, so most are wearing a mask,” said, adding, “We’re definitely trying our absolute best and following the precautions set forth to make sure that everybody is safe.”