How to seek medical advice safely during the COVID-19 outbreak?

Although it is recommended to minimize going out during the COVID-19 outbreak, the demands for medical treatment are inevitable. How to protect yourself from infection during medical treatment? What matters require specialized attention?

How to prepare for seeking medical advice?

Prepare yourself for seeking medical advice according to your own needs. For example, when your child needs to be inoculated against conventional diseases, the first step is to consult the local community hospital whether you can postpone the vaccination or not and whether an appointment can be made at different time intervals in advance if an inoculation is necessary, so as to reduce the length of hospital stay.

Consult the local community hospital about the time your child needs to be inoculated against conventional diseases during the outbreak. /VCG

Consult the local community hospital about the time your child needs to be inoculated against conventional diseases during the outbreak. /VCG

During the COVID-19 outbreak, some hospitals have closed their departments of stomatology, ophthalmology and ENT, with only the emergency departments being open for outpatients. Meanwhile, VIP and expert clinics have also been either closed or operate only with appointments. Therefore, please call the hospital in advance to make sure whether your medical needs can be met and whether your medications are available. Make an appointment in time. If common medications are all that you need, a community hospital nearby is recommended.

If you have a fever, please go through the list of local hospitals with a designated fever clinic, and choose a hospital that is able to receive a patient for treatment.

What kind of transportation do you prefer?

If your physical condition permits, private cars, bicycles, electric vehicles and walking are preferred. These trip modes require less contact with others and lower the risk of infection with 2019-nCov. If you are in poor health, you can call an ambulance and explain your condition for help.

If you take public transportation, be sure to wear a mask, usually a surgical mask. Try to keep a distance of at least one meter with others on the way.

Does it require to take a temperature before going to a hospital?

Currently, most hospitals require temperature measurement and filling out a health registration form before entering them and ask if the patient has been to a virus-hit area or contacted people from such areas. Only one person may be allowed to accompany the patient to the hospital. This is to know the physical condition of the admitted patient, reduce the contact between the infected person and healthy individuals, and lower the risk of virus transmission. So please cooperate with the hospital on this.

What kind of protective measures should be taken during medical treatment?

Wear a mask

The patient and the accompanying person should wear masks before entering the hospital, and should not remove the masks unless needed throughout the entire treatment process. Protective respirators for medical use (such as N95 masks), which are for exclusive use by the medical personnel, are not necessary for ordinary patients. The patient will feel uncomfortable when wearing it for a long time because of poor breathability, and people with poor cardiopulmonary function should avoid it as much as possible. It is recommended that the patient wears a surgical mask, and the accompanying person wears an N95 mask (particulate blocking, preferably without the exhalation valve) when they go to a fever clinic.

Wash hands with soap or hand sanitizer for at least 20 seconds before wearing a mask, and rinse your hands well under running water. Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer to wash your hands if the condition does not permit it. Avoid touching the mask with your hands while wearing it. If you touch it accidentally, it is recommended to wash your hands. It is recommended to replace the mask every two to four hours. Replace the mask immediately in any of the following circumstances:

· A significant increase in breathing resistance is felt.

· The mask is damaged.

· The mask fits loosely on the face around the edges.

· The mask becomes damp.

· The mask is contaminated by foreign bodies such as snot or droplets.

· Have contacted with the confirmed case (as such mask is contaminated).

· The mask smells bad.

Discard the mask in a closed bin immediately after removing it. Wash hands after removing or replacing the mask.

Hand hygiene

Wash your hands when they are dirty, before wearing a mask, after touching and removing a mask, before eating, after using the toilet, after touching the surface of public facilities such as elevator buttons, before touching the eyes, mouth and nose, and after having direct physical contact with others. You can use soap and running water, or alcohol-based hand sanitizer if the condition does not permit it.

Keep distance from others

In case of queuing up and waiting to see the doctor, try to distance yourself from others if possible, or wait in the open air with few people around and enter the waiting room as the visit time approaches. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends a distance of at least one meter from others (especially those who cough, sneeze and have a fever). This is because the person getting 2019-nCov may spray virus-containing droplets when he/she coughs or sneezes (especially when the infected person is not wearing a mask), and the droplets may be inhaled by others if they are close.

Is there a risk of infection from physical examination by the doctor, infusion or examination?

The doctor will strictly follow the prescribed procedures while conducting a physical examination, and will wash hands thoroughly before performing a physical examination. Therefore, the risk of infection from a medical examination is low.

The nurse will also disinfect the local skin before infusion, and use disposable needles and sterilized tourniquets, etc. The infusion area of the fever clinic and general outpatient clinic is usually separated. So, as long as you wear a mask and wash hands thoroughly and frequently, the risk of infection is low.

Currently, some hospitals have suspended the examination of lung function, bronchoscopy and other examinations with higher risk of infecting the respiratory tract, and strengthened disinfection measures for the examination device. For example, a technician will disinfect the machine and the environment across the gap between two patients getting a CT scan. Therefore, you can rest assured, and don't delay necessary examinations because you are worried about infection.

Can I eat in the hospital or use the toilet?

Try not to eat if the visit time is short, so as to avoid increasing the risk of infection after removing the mask.

If the visit time is long, you can bring food and water with you. Remove the mask to eat and drink water at a place with few people around. Please note that you must wash your hands carefully before meals and after removing the mask.

Although there is no conclusive evidence that 2019-nCov is transmitted by the fecal-oral route, it is still recommended to close the toilet lid before flushing in order to avoid the possible virus spread through feces, and to wash hands thoroughly. Try not to touch public facilities when using the toilet, and wash your hands after touching them.

What to do after returning home?

Take off the clothes you wear when you go out and wash them as soon as possible. Seal the removed mask, and throw it into a bin with lid. Disinfect articles you bring home such as the phone, keys and medical records with medical alcohol, and then wipe them with facial tissue.

Wash your hands carefully with soap or hand sanitizer, and rinse under running water for 30 seconds.

Stories in this series were contributed from Tencent Medpedia medical team, which were written and reviewed by medical experts from China's top hospitals. It is intended for informational purposes only, not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on our website. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor, or go to the hospital.