How to know if you should see a physician when you're not feeling well
It’s that time of year. With changing weather and possibly the worst flu season in decades, you likely know at least one person who’s been laid low with illness. Unfortunately, with so much anecdotal evidence and misinformation in the world, I find that many of my patients aren’t confident about telling the difference between bad allergies and something more serious. Do you feel confident deciding between “I should skip work today” and “I should see my doctor today”? How long before you should call someone? When should you be worried?
It’s important to all of us at VHP that our patients feel confident about when to seek our help. We want you to make the best use of your time, energy, and financial resources. With this in mind, I wanted to share a small piece of advice about evaluating yourself and your symptoms during the sick season.
Know yourself, your body, and what’s “normal”
You know your body. You know when things feel off. Is this how you typically feel? Anything that’s disrupting your ability to eat, work, or live normally should be evaluated and monitored. This can seem a little silly, but I’ve found that our patients are remarkably good judges of how they feel and what is or is not normal. What’s normal for someone else may not be normal for you. If you “haven’t felt yourself” for longer than 24 hours and don’t seem to be getting better, we’d like to hear from you to find out what’s going on.
Even if you think it’s “only the flu”, that needs to be taken seriously. Yes, it’s common, but it’s also a serious illness that has a surprisingly high mortality rate in this country (thousands a year). What’s “only the flu” for someone else may not be “only the flu” for you. You’re a complicated biological creature with many factors affecting your health. Please call or message us; we’re always going to find a way to take care of you. Reach out before things get serious. Our goal is to keep you out of the ER and ensure that you get to an ER if and when you need it.
Be wary if you or a loved one is in a higher risk age-group
An illness that’s simple for a 21-year-old can be much more dangerous for a 70-year-old. At VHP, we’re always more cautious with our patients who are over the age of 65. I’ve had patients go from perfectly healthy 67-year-olds to regularly hospitalized 68-year-olds. The body can downgrade quickly in this age group. Anyone over the age of 65 should always take any illness as a potentially serious condition.
Similarly, I advise parents of newborns, infants, and toddlers to be very cautious and conservative. I’m the proud father of three young children. My wife and I take special care with anything that has the kids off their normal routines for longer than 24 hours.
Patients who are chronically ill should be more cautious
I know my patients with chronic illnesses the best. That’s because if you have diabetes, hypertension, or any other condition that requires consistent monitoring, you and I are seeing each other more regularly. For this reason, I strongly advise these patients to lean on the side of caution. Your body is already working very hard to keep your condition under control, so any extra effort it expends could put undue strain on your system. Anytime you have complicating health factors it can make even a basic illness more complicated. This goes double for people over 65!
You don’t seem to be getting better
Has it been a couple of days and you still don’t feel better? Let us know. Whether you’ve already been seen by us or another healthcare provider, or simply been taking over-the-counter remedies, you should be concerned if you don’t seem to be on the mend. I want to know you’re still feeling ill 2-3 days after I’ve seen you, especially if you feel worse. Similarly, the warnings on the back of your Dayquil bottle should be taken seriously. If you’ve been medicating for several days with no noticeable improvement in symptoms, you need to let a healthcare provider know.
It’s at times like these that I’m most proud of what we’ve built at Village Health Partners. Modern technology allows my patients to reach our care team seven days a week via the patient portal or after-hours call center with a reasonable response time. We want to make it easy for you to get ahold of us if you’re worried.
Interested in more detail about self-diagnosing a flu or cold? The CDC is a wonderful resource for getting informed and being more educated about these illnesses. I’d always consult official sources before relying on social media for answers.
With weekend urgent care, extended hours, televisits, and all of our providers using the portal to keep in touch with our patients, I’m grateful that so many of my patients can get in to see me or one of my partners if they need us and that we’re available to them after a visit when needed.
I hope you have a great start to the year. Stay safe.
-Ryan “Joey” Hewitt, MD