With so many of us trying to navigate our health care in the midst of uncertainty, we interviewed Dr. Wendy Hurst, a gynecologist, member of the LOLA Collective, and contributor to Ask an Expert, about how to prioritize your Well-woman exam during a pandemic. Click here to watch the full interview, or check out the conversation highlights below for some great tips.
Q&A with Dr. Wendy Hurst
Why is preventative care important?
Many women see a primary care physician who does not usually address the relationship between health issues that are particular to women. If we can intervene and help women to maintain a healthy lifestyle, by looking at their medical history, looking at specific issues related to women — including their periods, which are markers of health in general — we can help women stay as healthy as possible.
Do I need a Well-woman exam every year?
You need a Well-woman appointment, but not necessarily an exam. This is a common misconception. It’s more accurate to call it a Well-woman visit. Sometimes it will just be taking history, pointing out risk factors, and/or counseling on contraception. Some Well-woman visits include an exam and some do not. If we’re following American College of OBGYN guidelines, we’re not doing pap smears more than once every three to five years depending on results from previous paps. If a patient has normal paps, and is negative for HPV, she does not need to have a pap every year.
How has the coronavirus shifted how women receive these exams?
When COVID-19 came into our lives in March, our office — and most offices — closed while attention was turned toward taking care of COVID patients. But now that COVID has stabilized, we are following hospital guidelines, CDC guidelines, and American College of OBGYN guidelines as we open up our offices with caution. Everyone wears a mask, we take the temperatures of patients at the door, we use the parking lot as a waiting room and call people when the doctor can see them. With these precautions, we’re still making sure women get the exact care that they need. Some women need to come in — or are eager to come in — and with these precautions, that’s okay. For others who have risk factors — or are nervous about coming in — a Well-woman visit via telemedicine can be acceptable for the right patient.
What are some tips for navigating telehealth appointments so you get the most out of them?
The telehealth visit is really the same as the history part of the visit of a wellwoman exam. Again, some women do not need physical examinations. The same questions that someone would bring with her to her yearly checkup, would be brought with her to her telemedicine appointment. And these appointments are scheduled in exactly the same way. Since we often have a little bit more time in a telemedicine visit, patients actually have more time to ask questions. It can be a real positive.
Any advice on improving communication with your provider, whether over a screen, email, or in person?
It has to be a two-way street. Hopefully your physician is asking questions to invite this discussion. But it’s also a great practice for you to write down questions in advance to bring to the appointment to make sure you hit those questions. You should also rest assured that if you have a question, many women have the same one. Don’t be afraid to ask.
Speaking of in-person, as states start to open up, do you have advice for practicing safety as people return to their doctor’s office?
While we are taking every precaution we can take, many women are still feeling nervous about coming in. We are telling those patients to wear a mask and maintain social distancing even on the elevator and stairs. If you assume you might get it, and the person next to you has it, you are taking the right precautions — whether you’re coming to the office or going to the grocery store.