Hospitals developing plans for return of in-person office visits for preventive care, screenings

BOSTON — Hospitals in the Boston area might soon recommend a return to the doctor’s office for preventive care after initially transitioning many patients to telehealth appointments at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are beginning to think seriously about how we liberalize some of the restrictions we’ve put into place,” said Dr. Saul Weingart, the chief medical officer at Tufts Medical Center and Floating Hospital for Children in Boston.

“We’re now looking at how we might open up particularly some of our diagnostic modalities so we can detect problems early. That would include some of those primary care screening tests,” he said.

About two-thirds of the primary care visits that Tufts would normally have are now being done telephonically or through a video connection, Weingart said. He added that telehealth is particularly helpful for patients with chronic conditions.

However, many patients have been postponing other screening procedures that are designed to detect serious health conditions in seemingly healthy people, including mammograms, pap smears and colonoscopies, which Weingart said anecdotally has led to a delay in detecting some maladies doctors would normally catch during in-person visits.

“While a month may not make a big difference, we don’t want to postpone the identification of serious conditions,” Weingart said. “Unless we get people back to the doctor soon, I think we’re going to have some problems down the road.”

Most people can safely postpone their annual physicals for up to three months, he added, but “if the crisis stretches beyond that, we’re going to have to revisit that question.”

Weingart also stressed that anyone experiencing symptoms should immediately reach out to their physician to seek treatment. “I have to tell you," he added, "I feel much safer in the hospital than I do in the grocery store.”

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