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Going to see your doctor might never be quite be the same

May 28

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Thursday, May 28, 2020  RssIcon

from The Pal-Item

Remember what going to the doctor used to be like?

Waiting rooms with a handful of people or more sitting within spitting distance of one another. Communal magazines that patient after patient would lazily flick through until called back for their appointment. Maybe a toy station in one corner to keep the kids occupied.

All of that is gone now and no one knows for sure when (or if) they'll return. Your doctor's office's new waiting room is the front seat of your car.

As life begins its slow march toward some version of the way it used to be before COVID-19, the health care industry is making changes to the way workers interact with patients to caution against further spread of the disease.

"This is something that we've been thinking about a lot because on the one hand, COVID is not going away any time soon," said Thomas Huth, vice president of medical affairs for Reid Health.

Huth believes our best bet for a return to life as it once was is the development of a treatment for those who become infected with the novel coronavirus as well as a vaccine to inoculate the public. But a timeline for when those might become available remains unclear.

"I think that from a scientific standpoint, it's not certain that we'll ever get to that point. The history is not great for vaccines of coronaviruses nor on specific treatments," he said.

"Maybe it will lapse into a seasonality kind of prevalence. Perhaps there will be a COVID season where we're taking more precautions. It's all kind of speculation at this point because we don't really know."

For now, leaders of health care systems such as Reid must figure out a way to offer necessary care to patients while trying to keep everyone safe.

"Basically, it's a matter of kind of stopping being afraid of COVID and figure out how to be smart about it," Huth said.

To that end, Reid recently unveiled its "Safe Pathways to Care" program that outlines the measures being put in place at all of the system's facilities. Those include:

  • Limiting people in waiting rooms by checking patients in from their cars when possible.
  • Allowing only the patients in for appointments and procedures, except in the case of children or adults who require a support person.
  • Requiring all patients and support visitors to wear a mask throughout their visit.
  • Masking providers and staff during all patient encounters.
  • Diligent hand washing and extra cleaning precautions of surfaces and instruments.
  • Keeping all exam room doors closed.
  • Removing magazines, toys and other items from waiting areas and exam rooms.
  • Continuing to screen for COVID-19 symptoms at entrances.

"All of that is just going to become part of our job the way that a welder wears safety googles all the time. I don't know that we'll ever put our health care workers at risk again when it can be resolved with easy measures."

Reid and other care providers also have turned to telehealth services as a way to minimize face-to-face visits when possible.

Meridian Health Services says it conducted more than 33,000 virtual visits for medical and behavioral care in April 2020 alone. In the same month last year, that number was fewer than 1,000.

In Meridian's case, the regional care provider says it started several years ago to explore using technology to provide visits through telehealth, and already was doing psychiatric appointments virtually for interested patients.  

"This enabled us to be able to pivot immediately to provide care virtually for our medical practice and other services," said Gerry Cyranowski, vice president of Meridian. "So we switched non-urgent/essential in-office, face-to-face visits to virtual visits to include both behavioral and medical appointments."

In the coming months, Reid plans to continue the special respiratory clinic it established at the former home of its Urgent Care operation, 1501 Chester Blvd., and the "hospital within a hospital" setup used to separate confirmed and suspected COVID-19 patients from others likely will stick around as well.

Where to get tested

If you're feeling sick and want to be tested for the novel coronavirus, there's an online tool from the state to help you know where to go.

The Indiana State Department of Health has put together a map of testing sites available to Hoosiers at coronavirus.in.gov/2524.htm.

In Wayne County, there were four places listed:

  • Reid Health's special respiratory clinic at 1501 Chester Blvd.,
  • Meridian Health Services at 2300 Chester Blvd.,
  • The First Care urgent care clinic at 3600 E. Main St. and
  • The ISDH/Optum test site at the former Elder-Beerman building at 601 E. Main St.

For each location, the map has information including operating hours, how to schedule an appointment, who can be tested at that site, whether and how you'll be charged for a test, and contact information.

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