Six months into a global pandemic, we’ve reached the point at which some things have to go back to normal. Sure, everyone is wearing masks and staying far apart, but we’re moving past the phase of lockdown where we’re brainstorming activities to do at home or trying to find space for a home office. Instead, most people have pulled out their calendars and are trying to catch up on key obligations, such as regular medical appointments. Returning to these activities isn’t always so easy, though, and medical appointments may carry a special risk.

How can you stay safe when headed into your doctor’s office? Talk to your provider about these 4 issues before your appointments so you can be clear on the best practices before you go.

Split Settings

One of the most important concerns to raise with your provider before coming into the office is how they’re managing healthy versus sick patients. Are there separate waiting areas? Do they see sick patients on the same day as well visits? Most doctors are advising anyone with cold or flu like symptoms to stay home; they’re also preemptively contacting patients with cardiovascular, pulmonary, and immune issues to advise them to stay home.

When you come into the office for a well visit, you can expect to be seen in a dedicated clinic space, while sick patients – specifically those with respiratory problems, will be routed to a separate entrance and waiting room. If your doctor’s practice has all patients headed into the same waiting area, which is unlikely, skip that appointment.

While Waiting

Waiting rooms are one of the highest risk areas in any medical clinic, and doctors and their staff take that risk seriously. Not only can you expect everyone to be masked in the waiting room, and that hand sanitizer will be readily available, but most practices are scheduling patients further apart so they don’t overlap in the waiting room. Some practices and urgent care clinics even allow you to skip the waiting room, encouraging patients to check-in from the car. Ask the office administrators how they prefer to handle the check-in process.

Keep Your Distance

While in-person visits may be resuming, don’t expect everything to go completely back to normal. In fact, there’s a good chance your experience will be very different from what you encountered at pre-COVID appointments. For example, in an attempt to limit contact, many practices are collecting patient histories and updating medication lists over the phone. Depending on the reason for your appointment, doctors may also perform car-side consultations or provide treatment in open air offices.

Specialist Concerns 

Different medical specialists require different norms in terms of care and office management, so while your primary care provider or sports medicine doctor may be able to visit your car, it’s important to talk to address any specialty-specific concerns. For example, there’s been real concern that eye doctor’s exams could transmit COVID, though there is little evidence of this as of yet. Patients should be comfortable enough with their doctors to ask about these issues, advocate for themselves, and reschedule or ask for alternative arrangements for the appointment if they feel unsafe.

If you’re scheduled for an in-person doctor’s visit, it’s important to take appropriate precautions, and talk to your doctor in advance, and don’t worry that you’re overstepping the normal boundaries. These are strange times and your doctor wants to keep you safe, too. They should be your partner in this process. Together, you can make a plan that allows you to feel confident you’ll be safe coming into the office.