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‘Is It Safe?’ How to Put Patients at Ease Post-COVID-19

By Melissa Wirkus Hagstrom, contributor 

As we all navigate life during a pandemic, and in the post-COVID-19 environment, urgent care centers, doctors’ offices and hospitals across the country are implementing new safety measures and protocols to help patients feel at ease from germs. Many patients have been delaying or avoiding medical care due to fears of the coronavirus and other infectious diseases.

The results of a Kaiser Family Foundation poll, published in late May 2020, found that 48 percent of Americans said they or a family member has skipped or delayed medical care because of the pandemic, and 11 percent of them said the condition worsened as a result of the delayed care. And a survey released in late April by Morning Consult and the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) showed that nearly a third of American adults (29 percent) say that they have delayed or avoided medical care because they are concerned about contracting COVID-19.

“Waiting to see a doctor if you think you’re having a medical emergency could be life-threatening,” said William Jaquis, MD, FACEP, president of ACEP, in a press statement. “While it’s important to stay home and follow social distancing guidelines, it’s critical to always know when to go to the emergency department.”

From plexiglass dividers and other social distancing protocols in waiting rooms to mandatory mask usage by clinicians and patients, plus access to increased testing, there are many ways that healthcare providers and facilities can help patients feel at ease from germs so they can get the medical care they need. 

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New safety precautions and protocols

The American Hospital Association (AHA), in conjunction with the American College of Surgeons (ACS), American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA), and Association of periOperative Registered Nurses (AORN), developed a joint statement and roadmap to address the issue of resuming elective surgeries and procedures as the COVID-19 crisis wanes.

The groups provided eight principles and considerations to guide physicians, nurses and facilities in their resumption of elective surgery care, for operating rooms and all procedural areas, according to the roadmap. They factored in: timing, testing, adequate equipment, prioritization and scheduling, data collection and management, COVID-related safety and risk mitigation surrounding a second wave and other issues including the mental health of health care workers, patient communications, environmental cleaning and regulatory issues.

Additionally, many medical facilities and hospitals have released protocols and guidelines to determine how they are dealing with patient care post-COVID-19. Major healthcare networks, such as HCA Healthcare, are addressing this issue head on. HCA developed a “Caring through COVID-19” resource page where patients can find more information on what their facilities and providers are doing to mitigate risk and provide the highest levels of healthcare during this time. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been the leading force on issuing guidelines to prevent infection in both the outpatient and inpatient settings. During the coronavirus outbreak, the CDC recommends that patients talk to their doctor by phone, online or email. They encourage all patients to “use telemedicine, if available, or communicate with your doctor or nurse by phone or email. Talk to your doctor about rescheduling procedures that are not urgently needed.”

For patients who need to go into the doctor’s office for a procedure, vaccine or other face-to-face reason, the CDC offers guidelines to help both healthcare providers and patients. 

Orange County Children’s Medical Group, a pediatrics practice in Orange County, California, is implementing the CDC protocols with additional health and safety measures to help the families they treat feel more at ease. 

In addition to offering telehealth services, the medical group is also implementing increased sanitation measures (such as no toys in the waiting room and disinfecting exam rooms), separating well visits from sick visits, limiting visitors in the clinic and allowing a “fast track” check-in from the car that virtually eliminates time spent in the waiting room. 

Increased communication 

Physicians and their facilities must do their part to communicate and educate in order to help patients feel at ease from germs. At the end of the day, however, it will be up to each patient to determine their level of comfort and decide if they will reach out for care. 

“It’s all about communication,” said Matt Eventoff, communication and messaging strategist, founder of The Oratory Project and owner of Princeton Public Speaking. 

“Communicate, communicate, communicate,” Eventoff said, adding that the best way for patients to feel more comfortable is for providers to let them know exactly what they are doing to address the issue of safety. That means posting guidelines and cleanliness protocols on the facility website and in key places around the facility, and ensuring that front desk staff and other team members are equipped with the information they need to share with patients.

“Communicating protocols before patients come in are subtle reminders that it is going to be a different experience and a safe experience, and here is what it’s going to look like,” he said. “It’s giving people the information so they can make the determination whether or not they feel comfortable.” 

Related:
Dr. Pooja Patel’s Inspiring Message During COVID-19 – YouTube
Joint Statement: Roadmap for Resuming Elective Procedures after COVID-19 Pandemic

Information for Healthcare Professionals about Coronavirus (COVID-19)
– CDC

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