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Infectious Diseases

Updated 24 June 2020

How to alleviate your fears of routine medical check-ups and errands during Covid-19

Is the fear of contracting Covid-19 keeping you from filling a prescription for important medication or going for a routine check-up?

  • Many people are pushing other health issues to the side as they fear Covid-19
  • Even a trip to the local pharmacy may spark anxiety
  • The risk of Covid-19 shouldn't overshadow other medical issues


Have you been putting off a routine medical check-up for fear of being exposed to Covid-19 at your medical facility? Or are you dreading that trip to the pharmacy?

As infection rates in South Africa start to climb, restrictions are also lowered, allowing us more movement. Technically, even at level 5 restrictions, medical appointments and visits to your pharmacy were permitted.

But many people are not honouring routine check-ups for chronical medical conditions. Some medical facilities were also temporarily closed as staff contracted Covid-19.

Weighing up your risks

Unfortunately, other medical conditions haven’t disappeared simply because of Covid-19. The National Health Service in the UK has started to implement various telemedicine solutions and digital access to NHS services to keep yourself safe at home while still receiving medical care.

Telemedicine is something that is not readily available in South Africa, even though the Health Professions Council of South Africa has updated their guidelines to support remote consultations and assistance during the Covid-19 pandemic.

It’s not only in South Africa where general practitioners experience a dip in appointments. Barron Lerner, a professor of medicine and population health at New York University Langone Medical Centre discussed his concern for his patients in an opinion piece in the New York Times. A diabetic patient of his experienced a foot injury and refused to go to the emergency room as he was far too scared of contracting Covid-19.

The question Professor Lerner poses in his article is, when does the fear of catching a virus outweigh the need to address medical issues that could be urgent?

Caring for chronic conditions

At Health24, tips on managing chronic conditions such as diabetes and hypertension state that you should keep on top of your condition by regularly visiting your doctor, monitoring your vitals, and taking your medication as prescribed.

This also applies to mental health conditions, as medication is often part of managing your condition.

If you are neglecting your general health out of fear of contracting Covid-19, here are some tips to help you feel more in control and to pluck up the courage to go for that appointment. 

1. Feel more in control by being prepared

Take proper stock of the medication you need so that you don’t get caught off guard when you run out. If you know you are due to fill a prescription, it will help you find the courage to go to your pharmacy. If you need to go outside the house, take the necessary precautions by wearing a mask and washing your hands – know that these precautions lower the risk of Covid-19 infection.

For an office visit or a procedure, your doctor will advise you of what to do beforehand, as you might have to undergo a Covid-19 test before an elective surgery, for example.

You can also keep your office visit short by asking the receptionist to let you know if the doctor is on schedule to avoid waiting in the waiting room for too long. Prepare a list of questions beforehand to keep your appointment to the point.

2. Take note of your prescriptions

Dreading to go to the doctor to fill prescriptions? According to the latest regulations, all level 2, 3 and 4 medications are excluded from certain provisions in the Medicines and Related Substances act. This means that all prescriptions for these medications can be extended for another six months by your pharmacist, without the need to go to the doctor.

However, some medications require check-ups by your doctor before renewing a prescription, or your current dose might not be working for you. Call your doctor first if you are in doubt.

3. Talk to your healthcare professional

Be honest about your fear. Your doctor may be able to put you at ease by explaining the protective measures being taken at their practice. They might also advise you if you are able to postpone a check-up, as they will have your details from the previous visit on record.

4. Make use of online counselling

If you are struggling with mental health but don’t want to have a face-to-face consultation, there are several ways to get help from home. There are also several resources available on the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) site.

5. Be proactive about your health

Lockdown may affect our mental and physical health in several ways – from overeating, drinking more than usual, irregular sleep, struggling to cope with the uncertainty, feeling isolated from your social circle – there are several factors that might have an impact on your health.

If you are currently fearing to see the doctor, take your health into your own hands by eating as healthy and balanced as you can. If you are still working from home, set boundaries between work and relaxation and make an effort to switch off and destress regularly. If you notice a sudden change in any chronic conditions, phone your doctor immediately for advice.

6. Stick to the facts – and follow sensible advice

The Covid-19 figures worldwide may be daunting, and we might feel inundated with bad news. But alleviate your fear of Covid-19 by realising that we now know more about Covid-19 than we used to. Also know that you can prevent infection if you simply follow the guidelines – staying 2m away from others in a public space, wearing a mask when you go outside, and regularly washing your hands.

Be self-aware in public spaces and act as if every person in your vicinity could be contagious, but don’t let it cause a crippling fear of running errands.

Also, trust that the doctors and pharmacists in your area are taking the best precautions they can to keep you safe.

7. Know what to delay and what not

Now is the time to take stock of your health – when last did you go for a dental check-up or a routine check-up at your gynaecologist? If there are no immediate issues, but you still want to know whether it’s safe to delay a routine check-up, ask your specialist.

READ | Mental health effects of Covid-19 pandemic, lockdown – and concern over suicide risk

READ | Avoiding fear, anxiety while you self-quarantine

READ | Tips for safe grocery shopping during the coronavirus pandemic

Image credit: The National Cancer Institute from Unsplash