COVID-19 made some of Dr. Ketan Amin’s patients reluctant to come to his office – even when they knew they needed medical attention. That was early in the pandemic, though, and in-person visits are now returning at a steady pace for Novant Health Presbyterian Internal Medicine in Charlotte.

‘We always have open spots’

His advice to patients experiencing unusual symptoms? Err on the side of caution and contact your provider. Novant Health primary care physicians are set up for same-day appointments. “At our office, we have a set number of same-day appointments for each of the providers in the practice. So, we always have open spots for same-day visits.

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Dr. Ketan Amin

“I have open slots every day,” he continued. “They can fill up pretty quickly once the office opens, but they are available. Even if you look at MyChart, and it appears there aren’t any appointments available, I urge you to call or send us a message.”

In fact, multiple doctors have stressed this point. Call. They'll try to fit you in if at all possible. It's better to call and check rather than give up, only to have things get worse and then find yourself in a packed ER. On weekends, contact Novant Health GoHealth Urgent Care. Another option: Novant Health Express at Walgreens.

Anyone with an existing medical condition – diabetes, high blood pressure, kidney issues – needs to be especially on guard, Amin said. Some conditions need to be addressed quickly, and the issue is: You don’t know until you’ve talked to your doctor if that cough is related to allergies. Or something more.

It could be nothing, but it could be something serious

“I see a lot of women who’ve experienced a change in urinary patterns – blood in the urine, a pinkish tint in the urine,” he said. “And then it’s not there a few days later. Or bit of burning or discomfort when you urinate that isn’t there later, so you think the problem has gone away.” Out of sight, out of mind.

But symptoms going away doesn’t always mean the condition has cleared up on its own.

“In some cases, by the time a patient sees us, the condition can be quite advanced,” he said. “It could be a urinary tract infection that becomes severe and involves the bloodstream because they let it go for so long. It could be kidney stones. I’ve seen all of these happen.”

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‘Best to get it checked’

Men may be even less likely to go to the doctor. Amin has a number of male patients who have ignored stool changes. “If you see blood in your stool, it’s easy to chalk it up to hemorrhoids,” he said. “Or to having eaten something spicy. And if it’s intermittent – not necessarily daily – you might disregard it. But it could be a colon issue. Even if it’s a small polyp, it could turn into a malignancy if not taken care of. It’s always best to get it checked out.”

There’s no reason to let a potential problem go undiagnosed, he said – not when getting through to your provider is so easy. “You can send your doctor a message through MyChart,” he said. (Access MyChart from your computer or download the app on your phone.) “Call the office, and leave a message. Or schedule an appointment – the virtual visits portal allows you to do that readily.”

Before the pandemic, there was no demand for video visits. “And the Zoom telehealth portal we have now just absolutely skyrocketed when COVID-19 arrived last year … and now we incorporate it in our daily care of patients. If you have a quick question or concern, it’s a great way to connect.”

Don’t neglect your mental health

Telehealth is ideal for some conditions, Amin said. “Depression, anxiety, status check-ins – these are all suitable for telehealth appointments,” he said. “We don’t need to lay hands on patients we’re treating for depression. We need to listen. A lot of those patients are so grateful because they’re working from home or have kids doing school from home, and it’s not easy for them to get away.”

Just a click away

Some of Amin’s older patients were reluctant to try an app that connected them to their doctor. But most of them are now converts. “It’s really pretty simple,” he said. “Once you’ve gotten acquainted with it, you just press the app on your phone. It opens up, and you send your doctor a message.”

You don’t know until you’ve consulted with your doctor

Amin’s advice to everyone: Don’t wait.

“You really don’t know what the situation truly is,” he said, referring to the host of symptoms people write off or ignore. “But there could be a reason you’re feeling tired and sluggish. It could be something that’s easy to treat.”

Amin’s no-more-than-a-week rule

How do you know when your sniffles are due to allergens? “If something has been kind of lingering for a week, it’s time to send your doctor a message or contact the office,” he said. “Maybe it’s something to watch and follow – but maybe your doctor will tell you to come in.”

Sooner is better, but a week is “sufficient and fair,” he said. “A cold or sinus conditions are generally resolved in a week’s time. After that, if it’s still persisting, you should get checked out.”

Prepare for your visit

You know your doctor is going to ask you, “When did this start?” So, it’s helpful if you’ve kept a log of the onset date of symptoms and the progression. “The more you can provide us, the better help we can give you. More information helps us determine what really could be going on.”

If at first you don’t succeed …

Don’t give up if you don’t see any openings on MyChart. “Just because you don’t see an open spot on MyChart or when you open up the app doesn’t necessarily mean we can’t see you,” Amin said. “Always contact the office.”