French urged to seek medical care despite confinement

Remote video GP consultation
You should still seek medical advice despite confinement; most GPs and specialists will suggest a remote, online consultation first

The public should continue to seek medical advice for non-Covid-19-related issues despite confinement, the French health minister has said, as specialists report a 60% drop in appointments even for urgent complaints.

Health minister Olivier Véran said: “Confinement should not be synonymous with not getting medical care.”

The minister said that medical consultations should be done online, remotely, as much as possible. But he was also clear that, if necessary, people are still permitted to see a doctor or specialist.

He said: “I remind the public that you are allowed to leave your house for medical reasons.”

The statement comes after medical specialists reported a 60% drop in consultations since the start of confinement on March 17, and GPs reported a 40% drop in appointments, for routine issues such as childhood vaccinations, as well as for more serious complaints such as suspected cancer.

Anyone who is usually in regular contact with a doctor or GP is advised to continue their usual care treatment. If you have any worrying health complaints, including pain or anything else - even if it is not Covid-19-related - you are advised to contact a doctor.

News service FranceInfo has compiled a helpful list of how to contact health professionals during confinement, depending on your issue. We summarise and translate.

General medicine

As normal, you are advised to contact your local GP, and, where possible, stick to online consultations. If you need to go in physically, the doctor will let you know.

If your GP is not available for any reason, you can call the emergency number 15, or in an emergency, go to the emergency department at your local hospital. Paramedics and other emergency services are doing everything they can to minimise contact between patients.

Jean-Christophe Calmes, vice-president of doctors’ union MG France, said: “Confinement does not mean you should stop seeking care or your treatment plan. This must continue, otherwise after the epidemic we will have consequences that are just as bad as the crisis we are seeing today.”

Toussia Zegar, coordinator of emergency medicine at the Pauchet clinic in Amiens (Somme, Hauts-de-France), said: “Do not stay at home if you are in pain, or suffering from something that may get worse. Come into hospital if there is no doctor available, or call 15.”

Specialist medicine

As usual, in case of emergency, contact your usual specialist, or one that is closest to your home. They will likely first suggest an online consultation.

This applies for any kind of specific complaint, including skin complaints, eye issues, or even gynecological problems.

Isabelle Gallay, a dermatologist in Dijon (Côte-d'Or, Bourgogne-Franche-Comté), and the vice-president of national dermatologist union le Syndicat National de Dermatologie-Vénérologie, said: “There are emergency doctors in all areas of speciality. Maybe someone has a worrying mole. A patient should not stay at home with their doubts and a bad wound.”

For issues such as suspected cancer - especially skin cancer - early diagnosis is very important.

Newspaper Le Point said: “Skin cancer is very aggressive and we can pay a heavy price for delaying diagnosis.”

Eye doctors - also known as ophthalmologists - are also continuing to see patients where necessary.

Ophthalmologist groups La Société Française d'Ophtalmologie and l'Académie Française d'Ophtalmologie reminded the public: “Ophthalmologist emergency care is continuing despite confinement. Hospitals and most local clinics are running telephone consultations for emergency care and chronic conditions. Before leaving home, contact your eye doctor by phone.”

Eye complaints that require urgent attention include a sudden decline in vision or sudden blurred vision; sudden eye redness; severe pain in the eyes or behind the eyes; a haze or disturbance in your vision; or any kind of physical eye injury.

Gynecologists have also called on the public to not ignore any urgent issues. In March, national gynecological group la Fédération Nationale des Collèges de Gynécologie Médicale (FNCGM), said: “We are available for patients to guarantee continued care.”

Routine and non-urgent appointments and tests should be postponed, they said, but any new, worrying, or urgent conditions - including pain or unexplained bleeding - should be looked at immediately.

Dental care

Most dental clinics are closed due to confinement, but emergency cases can still seek care. Professor Vianney Descroix told news source Europe 1 that there are four main emergency dental conditions that require urgent attention.

These are: “Pain, infections, injury, or hemorrhaging (severe bleeding)”.

People are advised to call their usual dentist, and if necessary will be connected to a central number (also available directly on 09 705 00 205), which will direct them to an emergency dentist.

Broken glasses

Opticians are closed during confinement, but since March 25, an emergency service has been in place. In case of emergency, you can call a “locum optician”, in the same way as you might contact an “out of hours” service on a normal Sunday.

All opticians offering this service can be seen on the website urgenceopticien.fr.

The glasses-wearer will not normally be encouraged to see the optician in person. They will be required to book an online or telephone appointment, explaining the level of emergency, and will also need to have a piece of ID and their normal glasses / eye prescription.

Some opticians are operating an at-home visiting service, especially for elderly people; and others are seeing clients in person - under strict healthcare rules - where necessary. You are advised to call your normal optician first to check this.

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