COVID screening questionnaires have become a fact of life since the beginning of the pandemic.
But Carla Holinaty, a family doctor in Saskatoon, says some patients are not being entirely honest in their responses.
This, she says, can lead to doctors and other patients getting exposed to the virus, potentially creating a greater burden on the healthcare system.
"It does create problems for us, because sometimes people who have symptoms or who have known contacts don't disclose that to use until they've made their way past our checkpoints, through check-in and are seeing our physicians," she said.
"Then we're left scrambling, trying to find the right PPE to make sure that we protect ourselves and ensuring that there's not been exposures to our staff or to other patients that have been in close proximity."
Holinaty says this has happened in her office more than once, and she is not alone.
One of her colleagues in Saskatoon, she said, is on their third self-isolation in the last three months after COVID exposures from patients.
While doctors who have been exposed are still doing video and telephone consultations if they are feeling well, she said not every issue can be easily resolved over the phone. Some appointments have to be cancelled or rescheduled.
So when a family doctor is exposed to COVID-19 and has to isolate, Holinaty said it can create a trickle-down effect.
"If you think of losing access to a single family doctor for a week, you're probably talking about a hundred or more patients who had been booked to see that doctor, who now potentially don't have access to care," she said.
"That's potentially an extra hundred people going to walk-in clinics or deciding that they're going to show up at the emergency room instead, and both of those places are already overwhelmed."
Holinaty said patients can have a variety of reasons for lying on their screening questionnaires, particularly if they want to see the family doctor that they know and trust. But that does not outweigh the risks.
"We absolutely empathize with people who are frustrated and overwhelmed and just want this to be over with, but we need to recognize that the way we make that happen is by following all the regulations and restrictions that are in place as closely and as strictly as we can, so that we don't continue getting this spreading like wildfire," she said.
Instead of downplaying their risks, Holinaty is asking patients to proactively disclose all their potential COVID symptoms — even mild ones — to give their doctors a chance to care for them while preventing exposures.
"We can help make sure that we find you care that's safe for you, but safe for everyone else as well," she said.