How COVID-19 has changed the doctor-patient relationship, and what we can expect
COVID-19 has dramatically changed how patients and doctors interact, and will likely have long-term effects as well.
These days, many physicians are only seeing patients in-office with acute conditions that need immediate care. The American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery (AAO-HNC) advises physicians to use telehealth for follow-ups, minor chronic care visits, prescription refills or lab result reviews.
And while there is a lack of physical contact with telehealth, many patients are grateful for this type of interaction as their anxiety levels are obviously very high. Doctors are able to provide advice and care management tips to get patients through this tough time.
Dr. Maeve O’Connor, Medical Director and Founder of Allergy Asthma & Immunology Relief in Charlotte, North Carolina says that while she’s experienced an uptick in telehealth visits of up to 50%, it does not replace in-office visits. “Allergies can’t be treated remotely, nor can we provide proper antibody replacement therapy for immunodeficient patients from a distance, when patients need to be monitored,” she says.
Just last week, ENT-Otolaryngologist Dr. Mark Mehle, M.D., based in Cleveland, Ohio, resumed performing elective surgeries. (Ohio governor, Mike DeWine approved elective surgeries in the state, on a case-by-case basis effective May 1st.) Decisions will be made carefully to keep patients and staff safe. Procedures to treat infections will be prioritized over less-critical ones like relieving chronic nasal blockages from a deviated septum.
“The thought process has certainly changed – masks worn in the operating room used to be about protecting the patient, but now it’s about protecting doctors and staff too,” says Dr. Mehle.
What changes can we expect to see in the coming months?
Telehealth can only go so far. As the doctor-patient relationship is primarily based on healing and trust, the lack of hands-on live contact can make it much harder to build that relationship. 2
According to Dr. Alan Goldsobel, M.D., an allergy specialist based in San Jose, California, “Telehealth will become a part of medical care more than ever. But basic medical care is still very hands-on – it’s tough to view, touch, and examine patients solely with telehealth. Younger patients who are more digitally oriented may be more comfortable with telehealth than the older generation.”
We live in unprecedented times, and Dr. O’Connor sums it up well: “My patients are much more appreciative of me as their healthcare provider, and I care about them too. My staff also appreciates their mission and purpose (along with having an income stream), which in turn, improves patient care. It has become less about punching the clock than making sure patients get seen and treated.”
 American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, “Guidance for Return to Practice for Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery Part One” 5/8/20, https://www.entnet.org/sites/default/files/guidance_for_return_to_practice_part_1_final_050520.pdf
 Harvard Medical School, “COVID-19’s Impact on Patient Care in the Primary Care Setting”, 3/31/20, https://postgraduateeducation.hms.harvard.edu/thought-leadership/covid-19s-impact-patient-care-primary-care-setting
 WLWT5-NBC News, “Ohio easing restrictions on elective surgeries, one of first steps in reopening economy,” 4/22/20, https://www.wlwt.com/article/ohio-easing-restrictions-on-elective-surgeries-one-of-first-steps-in-reopening-economy/32239928