COVID-19: Eight steps for getting ready to see patients again


5. Anticipate changes in patient expectations.

This may entail your reconsidering tests and procedures you previously performed and considering developing new sources for some services, phasing some others out, and revising your current approach. It will most likely also mean that you make telemedicine and televisits a greater part of your practice.

Carolyn Kaloostian, MD, a family medicine and geriatric practitioner in Los Angeles, points to increased reliance on community agencies for conducting common office-based procedures, such as performing blood tests and taking ECGs and x-rays. “A lot of patients are using telemedicine or telephone visits and get the lab work or x-rays somewhere that’s less congested,” she said. To become sustainable, many of these changes will hinge on economics – whether and how they are reimbursed.

The pandemic will leave lasting effects in our health care delivery, according to Dr. Kaloostian. She is sure many of her colleagues’ and patients’ current experiences will be infused into future care. “I can’t say we’ll ever be back to normal, necessarily.”

Even if the CMS rolls back its telehealth waivers, some physicians, like Dr. Coleman, plan to continue using the technology extensively. He’s confident about the level of care he’s currently providing patients in his practice. It allows him to better manage many low-income patients who can’t access his office regularly. Not only does splitting his time between the clinic and telehealth allow him to be more available for more patients, he says it also empowers patients to take better care of themselves.

6. Consider a new way to conduct “check-in visits.”

One thing that will likely go by the wayside are “check-in” visits, or so-called “social visits,” those interval appointments that can just as easily be completed virtually. “Patients are going to ask why they need to drive 3 hours so you can tell them their incision looks fine from an operation you did 5 years ago,” Dr. Gonzalez said.

He’s concerned that some people will remain so fearful of the health care system that a formerly busy practice may see the pendulum swing in the opposite direction. If an aneurysm patient skips a visit, that person may also decide not to undergo a CT scan – and something preventable will be missed. “Not everybody has the option to stay away until they feel comfortable. They’re basically playing hot potato. And at some point, the music’s going to stop,” Dr. Gonzalez said.

The pandemic has prompted some very honest conversations with his patients about what truly needs to get done and what may be optional. “Everyone has now become a hyper-rational user of health care,” he said.

7. If you haven’t yet, consider becoming more involved with technology.

In addition to greater use of telehealth, Dr. Kaloostian, assistant professor of clinical family medicine at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, foresees continued reliance upon technology such as smartphone apps that connect with a user’s smartwatch. This allows for more proactive, remote monitoring.

“For example, any time a patient is having recurrent nighttime trips to the bathroom, I’ll get pinged and know that,” she explained. It means she can reach out and ask about any changes before a fall occurs or a condition worsens. “It provides reassurance to the provider and to the patient that you’re doing all you can to keep an eye on them from afar.”

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