VANCOUVER -- It's important to get the medical care you need, even during a pandemic. And putting off your kids' vaccines or a visit to the emergency room could be risky.

That's what happened to Charley Bednarsh. She says that for weeks, she had persistent back pain and shortness of breath, but decided not to see a doctor. 

"I felt that I wasn't sick," she says. "I just didn't want to go to the hospital and use up the resources." 

But Atticus, her trained therapy dog, sensed something was wrong. He started howling constantly. Bednarsh finally decided to call her cardiologist, who convinced her to go to the emergency room. 

"She said, 'You suffered like a major heart attack,'" Bednarsh says. "And I’m thinking, 'You’re talking to me?'"

And Bednarsh is not alone in her fears. Almost half of Americans said they or a family member skipped off or put off medical care because of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Here in B.C., the province has seen a drop in surgeries – they're down 32 per cent. Visits to specialists are down 19 per cent, but virtual care visits with family doctors are up, accounting for 49 per cent of payments by the province.

However, in-person doctor visits have dropped by 12.8 per cent compared to the same time last year.

Kevin Loria, health editor with Consumer Reports, says people should not ignore serious symptoms.

"If you are experiencing a medical emergency, including signs of a heart attack or a stroke, call 911 or go to the ER," he says.

If you're unsure if you should go in for a screening test, procedure or checkup, give your doctor's office a call.

"They can let you know whether if you should come in or not," Loria says. "The same applies with contacting your kids’ pediatrician's office about keeping up to date with vaccines.”

When you do go back to the doctor, it will likely look and feel different than it did before the pandemic. Before you go, you may be screened for COVID-19 symptoms by phone or email. Your temperature may be checked before stepping in the door when you get there, and you may even be asked to come alone and wait in the parking lot instead of the waiting room. 

"You should also take the same precautions when going to your doctor’s office as you would going elsewhere else in public, so wear a mask, try to stay at least six feet away from other people, don’t touch your face and wash your hands or use hand sanitizer after touching anything," Loria says. 

Since her surgery, Bednarsh has returned to the hospital several times for follow up visits and says she has felt safe every time. 

"If you are experiencing anything that's different, at least make the call," she says. 

With files from Consumer Reports