With A-list celebrities and big-name sports stars having seemingly easy access to coronavirus tests—while the rest of us wait—we wondered how you can best receive prompt healthcare when you need it. So we spoke to several top doctors across the country for their advice on how to navigate medical care in such a scary time, and here are their top secrets on how to get the fastest treatment possible.
If you want to get fast medical care during the coronavirus pandemic, it probably isn’t going to happen in the emergency room. In addition to spending a lot of time waiting around, you risk infecting others who may be at a greater risk than you. “Going to the ER for this level of illness makes social distancing complicated,” explains Brandon Lawrence, MD, a Phoenix, Arizona board certified emergency medicine physician. “We are happy to see you for any complaint, however, think about who else is there.” He explains that this could include patients with cancer on chemotherapy, the elderly or even young people with Crohn’s disease who take daily steroids, which reduces immune responses. “These are the people we worry about,” he says.
If you feel you may need to be hospitalized—which in the case of COVID-19 would be having difficulty breathing—let medical staff know immediately. It will likely make you a priority to be seen. “If you just have a fever or just want to be checked out, you’ll probably, unfortunately, have last priority for most ED,” Dr. Lawrence explains.
If you are hoping to get in and out fast, bigger isn’t necessarily going to be better when it comes to hospitals. “Generally speaking, the large level 1 trauma centers will probably always be the busiest—as will the academic centers (for example, local universities with medical schools/residencies attached),” points out Dr. Lawrence.
According to Dr. Lawrence, you will probably be better off going to smaller community emergency rooms, as they “are usually less busy.” However, as a caveat “if they receive major patient population swells, they are a bit less equipped to deal with it.”
Some hospitals use “in quicker” services where you can go on their website and essentially sign up for a slot to be seen. “Sometimes this helps with waits, sometimes not,” explains Dr. Lawrence. “If you have COVID-19 symptoms, it might be helpful to try and use this feature, just to reduce the spread of symptoms.”
If you do decide to go to the ER, Dr. Lawrence explains that traditionally, the worst time to go is Monday, while Saturday night and Sundays are generally the slowest. “For the next month or so, this may not exist,” he admits. “In the major metropolitan areas the ERs either have or are about to become inundated with patient’s flooding in for the symptoms involved with the coronavirus.”
One thing you shouldn’t waste your time doing, according to Dr. Lawrence? “Calling around to ERs is generally a waste of time as most do not give wait times,” he points out.
Don’t expect to walk into a hospital and get a coronavirus test. “You can call your primary doctor or the county health dept for info on where to get tested,” suggests Dr. Lawrence. However, keep in mind that for those that are just “kind of sick”—even with coronavirus—”there’s no real treatment other than rest and isolation, anyways.”
Unless it is a true emergency, you should always put a call into your physician before exploring other options, urges New York City-based dentist Inna Chern, DDS. “I think in the current times, it is important to not flood the medical system and hospitals so patients with emergencies can get the care that they need,” she points out. There are a few ways now to figure out if you genuinely have a medical emergency. First call your healthcare provider to make sure that what you are experiencing warrants leaving any quarantine/curfew restrictions set forth by the government and local officials.
Historically, there are certain times of the day when doctor’s offices, hospitals, and urgent care centers are busier than others. “It is usually best to be the first person at the beginning of the day or right after lunch in order to get in and out of the office and limit your exposure to patients that are ill,” points out Michele C. Reed, DO.
If there is one emerging medical concept during the coronavirus pandemic, it is telemedicine. “Many large groups and hospitals are using this to help adhere to social distancing, but still provide necessary care to patients,” explains Joshua Mansour, MD, triple board certified physician in Los Angeles. Do a little research and find out if your doctor is able to use telemedicine instead of going into their office. Certain visits (such as for medication refills) or routine follow-ups are being done via telemedicine or currently being rescheduled, he points out. “Knowing ahead of time the options that you have will help in efficiently and effectively navigating the system as well as helping to protect yourself as well as others around you.”
Dr. Danielle R. Plummer, PharmD, teleMDcare CEO, runs a medical concierge service which uses the app iVisit. “Average wait time is less than 15 minutes and costs $49,” she explains. “If the doctor decides that the patient needs to go to a hospital, then the fee is waived. Most insurance companies and many employers now offer a telemedicine option, and with the upcoming funding from the government, telehealth will be available for everyone on Medicare at no cost to the patient.”
Do your homework ahead of time and make sure your medical destination takes your insurance, urges James Cobb, RN, MSN, emergency department nurse and former department director. “Generally speaking, the right hospital is the one that accepts your insurance,” he points out. “You avoid long-term hassles this way.”
If you do visit any emergency department, it is likely there will be some waiting involved—no matter what day of the week or time you arrive. “While the time people visit an ED roughly corresponds to a bell-shaped curve, staffing patterns at larger emergency departments correspond to this curve as well. You might think you’re going to get ahead by dropping in at 4 a.m., but there will be the fewest staff there at the time because, statistically, there are the fewest patients and you may actually end up waiting longer than you would if you came in at a more convenient time,” Cobb points out.
Unless you have government insurance, you should avoid places that take it if you want to save time, reveals Cobb. “When it comes to healthcare in the United States, the largest payer is the government. To avoid a long line, seek out a free-standing emergency department that doesn’t accept any government insurance, whether it be Medicare, Tricare or one of the state programs,” he explains. “People with government insurance who come to free-standing emergency departments are entitled to a medical screening exam and nothing more. Since there are fewer people with private insurance, this is a legitimate way to find an emergency department that serves a smaller number of people.” Check to see if there is an emergency department like this in your community if you have private insurance.
While most ERs won’t tell you the wait time over the phone, some of them do post their wait times on the website, Dr. Plummer reveals.
Navigating medical services needs to be considered now when you are feeling well, points out Sheryl Buchholtz Rosenfield, an RNBC in geriatrics, who served as a first responder volunteer in triage for September 11th. “I would know where the nearest medical services are available and this includes local physician offices,” she encourages. “Reach out before the ‘rush’ gets bigger and acquaint yourself to them while you are well.”
If it is a life-threatening emergency, call for an ambulance—do not have someone drive you—asserts Cobb. “By taking an ambulance, the hospital will have a room waiting for you and know your vital signs prior to your arrival, so their team can start treating you ASAP,” he explains. If you are driven in a private car, then you have to wait to get checked in and registered before being seen. “At my hospital, there are separate entrances for those who arrive in an ambulance and those who arrive in a private vehicle, and those in a private vehicle will be sitting with all the other sick people while they wait to be seen.”
And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don’t miss these 50 Awful Health Habits Everyone Still Does—But Shouldn’t!.