EDINBURG, Texas – Physicians across the Rio Grande Valley are trying to get a message to patients, do not ignore your normal healthy ailments just because of the coronavirus.

Dr. Linda Villarreal is an internal medicine specialist from Edinburg. She was recently named president-elect of the Texas Medical Association, the largest trade association for physicians in the nation.

“Diabetes is rampant in the Valley, morbid obesity is rampant in the Valley,” Villarreal said. “These chronic diseases still need to be monitored frequently.”

In a Zoom conversation with The Rio Grande Guardian, Villarreal gave credit to the residents of the Valley for adhering to stay-at-home orders. She said “patients were so scared to leave their house” that they did not go for regular checkups with their doctors.

“It’s amazing how many patients I didn’t have going tot he emergency room, in comparison to before,” Villarreal said. 

“But, one problem doesn’t eliminate other problems. Physicians are out there trying to tell patients, your diabetes hasn’t gone away, your high blood pressure needs to be monitored. Your medications need to be adjusted.”

Villarreal said TMA is issuing many public service announcements to tell patients not to forego their regular visits to the doctor. “That is the message we as physicians are trying to communicate,” she said.

In the above Zoom conversation, Dr. Linda Villarreal discusses COVID-19 in the Rio Grande Valley, along with the work of the Texas Medical Association and the Border Health Caucus.

To compensate for patients not visiting a physician’s practice, telemedicine has come to the fore.

“If the patients is still fearful of going to facility or a physician office where they think they might run into an exposure to the virus, we have become innovative,” Villarreal said.

“We do telemedicine. Never in my 31 year history have I had to deal with telemedicine.”

Villarreal said that while telemedicine has worked well generally, many elderly people have not embraced the concept. “For two reasons, they do not want to deal with the computer and they want to see the doctor face to face.”

Another innovate approach Villarreal has introduced is a drive up service in her parking lot. She joked that she does not serve food. “It is a different way of seeing our patients and hopefully reduces their fears. We are trying to communicate, you have got to see your doctors.”

Like many other physicians in the Valley, Villarreal warned that COVID-19 has yet to be defeated.

“It is not over. We should still try to continue with shelter in place, if at all possible, we still need to follow social distancing. We still need to wear our masks,” she said.

Villarreal added that she has been in discussions with state health officials about when the coronavirus pandemic might be brought under control.

“We are going to be dealing with this for the rest of this year. If it becomes less, great, praise the Lord and hallelujah. But, I just don’t see that happening.”

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