Coronavirus – No Need to Be Afraid of Seeing a Doctor

We have probably never been more aware and concerned about our own health than we are right now. Despite this, many people are afraid to visit their doctor due to the pandemic, the number of visits to medical practices has plummeted over the last few months. Doctors and medics are working together with specialist staff to protect their patients and themselves from infection as far as possible. It goes without saying that this applies to medics of all specialisms. We took a behind-the-scenes look at the workplaces of three doctors. How does an ophthalmologist carry on in the time of the coronavirus pandemic, despite getting so close to patients’ faces? How do radiologists organize visits to the practice? What additional precautions are oncologists taking?

“Safety measures remain our top priority at work”

Our eyes guide us and lead us through life. Losing your vision is a harrowing prospect. While most routine checks can be postponed in the pandemic without any problems, the eyesight of patients suffering from acute complaints or chronic macular diseases can worsen if they do not seek timely and, where necessary, regular treatment.

Since the start of the pandemic, we have noticed a worrying decline in patients visiting the practice. It is vital, however, that patients don’t wait until they have acute complaints before contacting their doctor and they do not postpone ongoing treatment of their own accord as doing so may cost them their eyesight. Health issues such as diabetic macular edema or wet age-related macular degeneration, which affect people with diabetes and older people respectively, should be treated regularly to ensure success. Patients suffering from these conditions tend to fall into the high-risk bracket for coronavirus and are understandably afraid of being infected during treatment or in the waiting room. I want to emphasize, however, that hygiene at work was and still is our top priority. In light of the pandemic, we have taken specific measures, including fitting our slit lamps with Plexiglas. Since it’s impossible for me to keep a safe distance during most treatments, I wear a surgical mask. It goes without saying that disinfecting, mandatory face masks, social distancing and regular airing of the clinic and treatment rooms are also part and parcel of our routine. We are doing everything we can to safeguard our patients and ourselves from the virus. Please do the same and protect yourself and those around you. But in doing so, please spare a thought for your eyesight. Don’t interrupt your treatment regimen without consulting your eye doctor first.
Professor Antonia Joussen
Medical Director Department of Ophthalmology at the Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin

“A disease does not wait to be discovered”

An early diagnosis can have a great impact on the treatment and thus the further course of the disease. Radiologists use imaging techniques such as CT (computed tomography) or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) to detect diseases at an early stage - often before symptoms occur - and monitor the success of therapy. If patients cancel their appointments with radiologists for fear of infection, this increases the risk that, for example, cancer or heart disease will progress undetected and necessary treatments will be delayed.

Dr. Fan Yang
We know that every successful patient treatment begins with the right diagnosis. Whether a disease or tumor is discovered now or in six months can make a big difference. The safety of our patients is our top priority. In case a patient with suspected virus needs to be examined, we have placed a CT device in an isolated room. Another important issue is hygiene: we clean and disinfect everything after each examination, use disposables to prevent cross-contamination, ventilate the rooms and wait an hour before we treat the next patient in the room. It is not foreseeable how long we will have to live with the virus, but we must not forget the other diseases. A disease does not wait to be discovered.
Dr. Fan Yang, Deputy Director of the Department of Radiology
Wuhan Union Hospital Affiliated with Tongji Medical College of Huazhong University of Science and Technology, City of Wuhan, Hubei Province, China

“Cancer can pose a far greater threat to patient life than COVID-19”

Radiologists and oncologists work hand in hand, as every treatment starts with the correct diagnosis. A delay in the diagnosis can therefore have a decisive influence on the success of the therapy. But not only early detection is important for cancer patients, but also regular treatment follow-up - also in times of Corona. But many patients are afraid because they belong to the risk group due to their illness - operations, chemotherapy, stem cell transplants, all these treatments can weaken the immune system. Many clinics and infusion centers have therefore reacted to the pandemic and introduced changes that allow personal visits or treatments in a safe setting on site.

PD Dr. Philipp Ivanyi
Whether and to what extent we can interrupt treatments, postpone operations or re-arrange treatments, varies from case to case and should always be discussed individually between h the treating oncologist and the patient as they know the individual situation best. As a rule, the practitioner carefully weighs the local, regional and national aspects of the COVID pandemic. For example, there are patients who do not necessarily have to come to the site for an infusion, as they can also take their medication orally. Wherever possible, we try to meet patients personally in order to continue treatment - of course with appropriate safety precautions. In addition to wearing a face mask, observing the distance rule and regular hand washing, this also includes compliance with other general hygiene rules. Corona tests are carried out in specific justified cases for individual patients. As a rule, complex logistics ensure in advance that high-risk patients do not get into the general therapy areas. I believe, at least in our hospital, the security measures have made it one of the safest places. Hence, for our patients staying in the special practice or special outpatient clinic is often much less problematic than the journey, general social contact or shopping. The patients' fear of being infected with corona is more than understandable. A lot of sensitivity in communication is required here and it is up to us to make the patient feel safe. However, there is one thing we try to keep our patients in mind again and again in these times: Cancer often poses a far greater risk to their lives than COVID-19. We therefore strongly appeal to patients not to interrupt therapy without prior consultation.
PD Dr. Philipp Ivanyi
Senior Physician and Head of Internal Oncology at the Hannover Medical School

Fighting the Virus Together

The fight against COVID-19 cannot be won single-handedly. Medical specialists working in practices and clinics are reliant on the support of every single patient to come through this challenging time. Trust in medical work and cooperation during appointments are crucial to ruling out the possibility of infection with SARS-CoV-2. Every single one of us has a role to play. Patients should comply with the measures in place at medical practices and prepare for their appointment. This crisis has reinforced the lesson that health is the most valuable thing any of us own. That is why we must not push other complaints and illnesses to the back of our minds.