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By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jason Amadi, Naval District Washington Public Affairs
WASHINGTON (NNS) — Despite physical distancing guidance and stay-at-home orders as a result of COVID-19, military health care providers in the National Capital Region (NCR) remain at the ready to provide service members, retirees, and their families quality healthcare at military treatment facilities (MTF) in the NCR or online via virtual care.
To mitigate the spread of COVID-19, MTFs have reduced operations and moved towards virtual care; however, for patients who require in-person care from their primary care providers, all 18 MTFs in the NCR remain open and fully serviceable during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re in the middle of a pandemic and we know people are scared,” said Dr. Paresh Lakhani, Naval District Washington (NDW) public health emergency officer. “They don’t want to go to their doctor or hospitals right now and we understand that. COVID-19 is real and there can be increased risk if you go to certain places. However, you should not ignore your medical issues.”
In addition to being NDW’s public health emergency officer, Lakhani also serves as the chief of occupational health for the Washington Navy Yard Branch Health Clinic. He says patients holding off on care during the pandemic may face longer than expected delays in care once the pandemic is over. Delaying treatments or preventative measures such as a colonoscopy during the COVID-19 pandemic can lead to certain conditions worsening.
“Eventually when we open things back up fully and you want to get a new issue checked out, everyone else is going to be doing the same thing. That could be the difference between life and death for certain conditions. That’s what we don’t want.”
Lakhani says that is where telehealth comes in. At the very minimum, if someone has a medical issue, they should make a telehealth appointment with their primary health care provider and make decisions together, especially if there are any new questions or concerns.
Personnel looking to make virtual health appointments with providers can do so via the same means they’d normally schedule an appointment, such as over the phone or through the secure messaging portal.
Between February and April, the NCR went from 170 providers using virtual care to 1,170. The NCR also grew from 39 virtual care appointments via Adobe Connect to 2,800 over the same period. Capt. Lea Beilman, chief health informatics officer for the NCR says she believes the increase shows that it will remain a viable tool going forward.
“Those methods have always been available, but with COVID-19 those are the preferred methods for patients who don’t need to come in and visit their provider in-person. I think that will just become a normal part of care going forward for a lot of conditions. You’ll be able to get the same quality of care without the stress of driving to the hospital,” said Beilman
According to Lakhani, MTFs in the NCR welcomes those in need of care to seek necessary treatment, even if that means going to a clinic or hospital.
“We’re still open for business and there’s still appointments available. When you think about things like medical care, it’s the same situation as when you go to the grocery store. You need to get groceries so you can eat. Getting a doctor to check you out is going to keep you alive just like food will. It’s important that you don’t ignore your health just because of COVID-19,” said Lakhani.