By Boyd W. Haynes III, MD –
During the first weeks and months of the pandemic, the information we received from the CDC regarding COVID-19 changed rapidly. This required our staff to be flexible, processes to be fluid, and for our medical teams to implement sometimes complex procedure changes on the fly. Let’s face it, the medical community doesn’t respond well to rapid, unplanned change. OSC, along with every other medical practice in the US, had to rethink patient care delivery STAT.
Alternative (telehealth and telephonic appointment) patient care options became increasingly important for those who were in high-risk groups. Even though Telehealth technology has improved, we regularly had issues with Internet connections, family member interruptions, compromised audio/video, and patients who weren’t tech-savvy. I believe we can deliver safe and timely care using Telehealth, but I think I speak for most colleagues by saying that in-person consultations are preferred until there are better Telehealth platforms. Our practice has seen a steady decrease in the use of alternative consults since the height of the pandemic in April.
Orthopaedic patients who need surgery and chronic pain patients who need interventional procedures typically don’t have life-threatening conditions that are considered emergent. As the government mandated that hospitals and ASCs only use ORs for life-saving surgeries and that in-office procedures be postponed due to risk, most of our patients were left with no treatment options, except for pain management for their significant pain and dysfunction.
The postponement of elective surgeries or procedures caused patients a great deal of frustration. They couldn’t understand that their pain and suffering was not considered urgent enough to get them into the operating room. Our teams spent a lot of time working with our patients to get their pain managed adequately with medications, Physical Therapy, etc., and by providing counseling and an ear to listen to their concerns.
We wanted to be a resource for our patients and ease fear and uncertainly with factual information about COVID-19. Patients wanted to know the practice was in full compliance with the CDC recommendations regarding enhanced cleaning and disinfection; providing recommended personal protective equipment for the staff; implementing social distancing for check-in, patient exam areas and check-out; and limiting office access to patients only. We established a COVID-19 resource page on our website detailing all practice Coronavirus protocols, gave the latest CDC updates, published articles specific to COVID-19, and shared information regarding local resources where help could be obtained for those in need.
This info was shared on social media, and our phone messaging was continually updated to reflect procedural changes. Our website visits rapidly increased to twice that of our pre-COVID numbers. It soon became clear our patients relied on us heavily for this information, reinforcing our belief that clear communication was key to helping them deal calmly with the crisis. As long as patient care is the top priority, we will continue to learn, adapt and innovate in our delivery of healthcare during this pandemic.
Dr. Haynes is a Sports Medicine fellowship-trained orthopaedic surgeon who has been with OSC since 1992. osc-ortho.com