As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread across the United States, several members of the Pediatric News Editorial Advisory Board shared how practices have been adapting to the pandemic, especially in terms of immunization.
Karalyn Kinsella, MD, a member of a four-pediatrician private practice in Cheshire, Conn., said in an interview that “we have been seeing only children under age 2 years for their well visits to keep them up to date on their vaccinations” as recommended by infectious disease departments at nearby hospitals such as Connecticut Children’s Medical Center. “We also are seeing the 4- and 5-year-old children for vaccinations.”
Dr. Kinsella explained that, in case parents don’t want to bring their children into the office, her staff is offering to give the vaccinations in the parking lot. But most families are coming into the office.
“We are only seeing well babies and take the parent and child back to a room as soon as they come in the office to avoid having patients sit in the waiting room. At this point, both parents and office staff are wearing masks; we are cleaning the rooms between patients,” Dr. Kinsella said.
“Most of our patients are coming in for their vaccines, so I don’t anticipate a lot of kids being behind. However, we will have a surge of all the physicals that need to be done prior to school in the fall. We have thought about opening up for the weekends for physicals to accommodate this. We also may need to start the day earlier and end later. I have heard some schools may be postponing the date the physicals are due.”
Because of a lack of full personal protective equipment, the practice has not been seeing sick visits in the office, but they have been doing a lot of telehealth visits. “We have been using doxy.me for that, which is free, incredibly easy to use, and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)–compliant,” she said. “I am finding some visits, such as ADHD follow-ups and mental health follow-ups, very amenable to telehealth.”
“The hardest part – as I am sure is for most pediatricians – is the financial strain to a small business,” Dr. Kinsella noted. “We are down about 70% in revenue from this time last year. We have had to lay-off half our staff, and those who are working have much-reduced hours. We did not get the first round of funding for the paycheck protection program loan from the government and are waiting on the second round. We are trying to recoup some business by doing telehealth, but [the insurance companies] are only paying about 75%-80%. We also are charging for phone calls over 5 minutes. It will take a long time once we are up and running to recoup the losses.
“When this is all over, I’m hoping that we will be able to continue to incorporate telehealth into our schedules as I think it is convenient for families. I also am hoping that pediatricians continue to bill for phone calls as we have been giving out a lot of free care prior to this. I hope the American Academy of Pediatrics and all pediatricians work together to advocate for payment of these modalities,” she said.