Communicating Safely with Your Doctor

By Peter C. Raich, MD, FACP

Doctor using mobile

Individuals with cancer and other chronic conditions are at increased risk of contracting and having more severe complications from COVID-19 (coronavirus). How do increased risks relate to the onset and duration of symptoms that may, or may not, be due to COVID-19? Here’s how you can communicate with your doctors about your health concerns without increasing your risk for COVID-19 or the flu. And, here’s how you can use an innovative new app, the RK360 Cloud Record, to quickly and safely generate, share and receive medical records electronically without leaving home.

Don’t try to tough it out

People at higher risk for virus infection have been reluctant to leave the safety of their home and visit either their doctor’s office, urgent care clinic or the hospital emergency department when faced with serious and rapidly worsening problems from acute or chronic illnesses. This is understandable since we picture such places as a place for sick people. You need to know that medical offices and centers have established effective protocols for separating potential COVID-19 patients from those with other serious illnesses. Thus, the risk of contracting the virus infection at these sites is much less than going to the grocery store. Fear of COVID-19 should not cloud the judgement of patients and caregivers so they ignore the symptoms of a possible heart attack, stroke or serious infection.

How to Communicate Safely with your Providers

To safely and promptly care for patients, many primary care and specialty providers have set up systems for telehealth visits and consultations in the face of the current COVID-19 pandemic. These are especially convenient for initial concerns and less serious medical problems. If your provider does not offer a telehealth system, you do not currently have a provider, or have lost your health insurance coverage, you may find the RK360 Cloud Record App very helpful in making contact with a provider who fits your needs and who accepts your health insurance plan. It also allows you to directly communicate with that doctor’s office to set up a telehealth appointment for urgent problems, as well as follow-up visits for existing chronic illnesses.

Before a telehealth consultation, it is helpful to gather your pertinent medical and insurance information. Again, the RK360 Cloud Record App will assist you in this pre-visit preparation. The RK360 App guides you in listing your current medications, chronic health conditions, allergies and symptoms. The App helps you record your health insurance information and send it securely to your doctor’s office in preparation for your visit. Using the RK360 App, you easily track symptoms, such as fever, and ask questions that are answered by your provider securely. You can take a picture with your cell phone (such as for a skin problem) and send it along with other information.

An initial telehealth session can be the best step to evaluate any new problems. Milder symptoms may be followed-up later by another telehealth visit, while more serious symptoms may prompt a referral to an urgent care clinic or the emergency department of a nearby hospital. If asked to go there, wear a mask and disposable gloves, practice social distancing and let the medical staff diagnose and treat the problem. Delaying or skipping important treatments such as surgery, radiotherapy or chemotherapy unnecessarily endanger the lives of cancer patients and threaten the success of treatments. With proper consultation with your cancer specialists these treatments can be given with a minimum of risk of COVID-19 infection.

Triaging Yourself

When faced with new symptoms that may be due to COVID-19 infection or other illnesses, how do you decide when to contact your medical provider? It is important not to wait too long before you contact your provider. Worsening of symptoms over several days is a serious warning. The most serious and potentially life-threatening symptoms associated with COVID-19 infection are chest pain, severe and worsening of shortness of breath, blue lips or face, high fever, and confusion. If you experience even one of these symptoms, contact your doctor immediately or go the emergency department without delay. Progressively worsening fever and decreasing oxygen levels are especially serious.

You can use your RK360 App to monitor the severity of these and other possible COVID-19 infection symptoms and report your results to your provider. Other symptoms to watch out for include chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat, loss of taste or smell, and red, blistered and painful toes.

If you have a positive COVID-19 test, but do not have any symptoms, it is still best to stay at home and markedly limit your exposure to others for 10-14 days. After that, if you need to go out, wear a mask and disposable gloves, and practice social distancing, avoiding crowds and confined indoor spaces.

Monitoring Your Symptoms

Mark your first day of illness and monitor the severity of each symptom daily. With COVID-19 infections, symptoms may get better temporarily, but watch for a second wave of more severe symptoms around days 5-7. Such worsening may be especially a problem for the elderly and those with chronic disease, such as cancer, hypertension, diabetes and obesity. If you have a fever, measure your temperature every several hours, and if available, measure oxygen levels with a pulse oximeter, a small device that clips to your finger to measure blood oxygen levels. Contact your provider if you experience worsening fever and falling oxygen levels. If symptoms are not severe by day 14, the person will usually continue to feel better, but it may take weeks to get back to normal.

In addition to establishing quick telehealth connections with your doctor, recording and sharing your medical history and any new symptoms and problems with your doctor, use your RK360 App to get post-visit medical records from your doctor and save them in your RK360 Cloud Health Record.  Use your App to ask your doctor to add post-visit care plans, laboratory results and radiology images and other health information in your Cloud Record. Now you’re ready to share information, at a moment’s notice, with other current and future providers. In an emergency, you can show these records to providers at point of care on your mobile device. What a relief it is, particularly during the pandemic, to know how to connect safely with your health care providers.

Peter C. Raich, MD, FACP is a Medical Oncologist/Hematologist who has researched and written about informed decision-making in cancer care and treatment.  He is Chief Medical Officer of Prosocial Applications and Professor Emeritus, U. of Colorado Denver

Connecting Patients to Providers through Personalized Health Information