How doctors are protecting patients and staff from COVID-19
Since mid-March, many physician practices and medical offices have asked patients to postpone scheduled routine appointments for a later date. Decisions like these were made to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus and to protect patients, staff and doctors.
As many states slowly start to reopen and resume business activity, how do you know if it’s safe to go see your doctor for a medical issue?
The American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery (AAO-HNC), has published a set of guidelines and recommendations for a safe return to practice, which practitioners have now started to implement.
According to Dr. Alan Goldsobel, M.D., allergy specialist at the Allergy and Asthma Associates of Northern California, “Patients are screened for their exposures as well as symptoms before they come in, and we also check our staff for fever and other symptoms, or if they’ve been exposed to known COVID-19 patients. Exam rooms, tools, pens, or any items that patients have come in contact with are sanitized with germicidal solution.”
The thought process has changed dramatically, where doctors and staff used to wear masks to protect patients, however, these days, it’s all about protecting both patients and staff.
Dr. Mark Mehle, M.D., an ENT-Otolaryngologist in Cleveland, Ohio, says, “We do our best to reassure patients that we have protective measures in place, for their safety and our staff’s. All patients are reminded to practice social distancing, and are required to wear masks when they come in.
Appointments are scheduled such that waiting time is minimized, and no one sits in the waiting room (where chairs and magazines have been removed). Family members are now asked to wait in the car.
We also coordinate patient appointment bookings with other doctors in our office to keep patients evenly spaced, and to give us time to sanitize rooms between visits.”
Dr. Maeve O’Connor, M.D., Medical Director and Founder of Allergy Asthma & Immunology Relief in Charlotte, North Carolina keeps patients informed via email and social media with COVID-19 related updates in the local Charlotte area and her practice specifically.
“Additionally, we have hand sanitizers and bright-colored social distancing signs posted all around the office. When it is mandatory to treat patients closer than 6 feet away, all of my staff including the providers protect themselves and the patients by wearing full gowns, gloves, masks, foot protection and goggles – with face shields worn over masks.
To minimize the spread of infection, we also limit performing certain procedures, such as pulmonary function testing (spirometry) because droplets can be blown into the air. We only do those when it’s absolutely necessary, and we have plexiglass barriers so testing is completely contained; and it’s cleaned thoroughly after each use,” says Dr. O’Connor.
Dr. Mehle adds, “In the longer term, we may expect doctors to use more face shields or N95 masks for medical procedures. And HEPA filters in offices. Far more attention would be paid to social isolation and proper sanitation techniques.”
Social distancing will likely continue for a while, and we may be wearing masks everywhere for the time being. It could be a while before we go back to the way things were before.
 Modernhealthcare.com, “Physician practices modify operations to cope with COVID-19”, 3/17/20, https://www.modernhealthcare.com/physicians/physician-practices-modify-operations-cope-covid-19