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Medical Care During COVID-19: When to Go to the Emergency Room

September 25, 2020
Medical Care During COVID-19: When to Go to the Emergency Room - Lark Health

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Which Routine Checkups to Have and When to Stay Home

When the COVID-19 pandemic forced millions of Americans to stay home in early or mid-March, many Americans decided to delay or cancel a regular check-up, dental cleaning, or other medical appointment to avoid risk of COVID-19. Americans also delayed going to the emergency room or getting urgent care.

However, what happens as COVID-19 wears on? Is it safer to get regular medical care or to stay away from the clinic for fear of catching COVID-19? How long should you wait before going to urgent care or the emergency room if you fear you are having a stroke or another medical scare?

Many experts agree that getting preventive care as recommended, and more urgent care as needed, outweigh the risk of getting COVID-19.

2 in 10 Adults Are Delaying Medical Care

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that, "By June 30, 2020, because of concerns about COVID-19, 41% of U.S. adults had delayed or avoided medical care."[1] In addition:

  • 12% have delayed or avoided emergency care.
  • 32% have delayed or avoided routine care, such as annual exams.

Risks of Delaying Medical Care

Delaying care can be devastating for individuals and communities. 

Emergency room:[2] Patients who delay seeking care for strokes and heart attacks are increasing the risk for permanent damage, such as paralysis, heart damage, speech problems, and other debilitating results. Similarly, missing out on prompt treatment for diabetic ketoacidosis can lead to fainting or a coma.

Routine check-ups: Skipping recommended physical exams and screenings may increase the risk of not detecting certain conditions early. Certain types of cancer can be detected with physical exams or imaging, prediabetes and diabetes are diagnosed with blood tests, and hypertension can be discovered when checking in at the nurses' station.

Vaccines: Experts urge patients to get the flu shot this year in particular. Also, childhood vaccinations should continue on schedule to avoid outbreaks of preventable and devastating diseases, such as measles. The flu shot may be available via drive-through stations at local hospitals or pharmacies.

When to Use Telehealth vs. In-Person Visits

Telehealth lets patients get care remotely, such as from their homes, without going to a medical facility. It may be a phone or video appointment with a provider. Patients can now get many routine services using telehealth.

This table can help you decide whether telehealth or in-person visits may be more appropriate
Telehealth In-Person
  • Some routine check-ups
  • Discussing medications and/or filling or refilling prescriptions
  • Mental health counseling
  • Initial appointments for a non-urgent problem, such as an achy hand
  • Follow-up appointments to monitor a medical condition or the effects of a certain medication or other treatment
  • Emergency or urgent situations
  • Imaging (MRI, CT Scan, X-Ray)
  • Lab work (blood and urine tests)
  • Colonoscopy
  • Dental work, cleanings, and exam
  • Vaccinations

Staying Safe in a Healthcare Facility

If you must go to a hospital or other healthcare facility, it can help to know that the staff are almost certainly doing their part to prevent the spread of COVID-19. They do not want COVID-19, and they do not want you to get it. 

Safety measures that you may notice can include social distancing in walkways and waiting rooms, sanitizing exam rooms between uses, and staff and patients wearing masks[3]. You may be asked to have your temperature checked and to affirm that you do not have any symptoms of, or known exposures to, COVID-19. There may also be rules such as not letting patients bring a family member to most appointments and not allowing visitors while in the hospital for certain procedures.

Staying Healthy with Lark

Some trips to the doctor cannot be avoided, but many of them can. The best way to lower risk for emergency situations and the need for increased hands-on medical care is to keep yourself as healthy as possible. Lark can help you do this whether your goal is to lose weight, prevent chronic conditions, lower stress levels, manage prediabetes, diabetes, or hypertension, or quit smoking.

You make decisions all day, every day, that have a big impact on health. These can include eating right, staying physically active, going to bed on time, and managing stress. If you have a chronic condition, staying healthy can also include taking medications properly and monitoring it. That can be a lot to consider, but Lark can help with small changes that are easy to take in stride.

As the COVID-19 pandemic wears on, people will still need medical care for reasons unrelated to the pandemic. Following a healthy lifestyle can go a long way towards reducing the amount and type of medical care you need, but you may need to see a professional at some point. If you need to go in person, just follow safety precautions to stay safe.


  1. Czeisler, Mark √â., Kristy Marynak, Kristie E. N. Clarke, Zainab Salah, Iju Shakya, Joann M. Thierry, Nida Ali, et al. 2020. "Delay or Avoidance of Medical Care Because of COVID-19-Related Concerns - United States, June 2020." MMWR. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 69 (36): 1250–57.
  2. Masroor, Saqib. 2020. "Collateral Damage of COVID-19 Pandemic: Delayed Medical Care." Journal of Cardiac Surgery 35 (6): 1345–47.
  3. "Get the Medical Care You Need during COVID-19, USC Health Experts Urge." 2020. June 12, 2020. https://news.usc.edu/171287/get-medical-care-covid-19-pandemic-usc-health-experts/.

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