On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared COVID-19* a global pandemic. In response, health care providers across the US closed their office doors to all but the most emergent patients as a precaution against the spread of COVID-19.
Today, these providers are reopening to non-emergent patients, but practices must follow strict protocols to prevent transmission of the coronavirus.
With all the safety precautions in place, seeing your provider in the age of COVID-19 is an entirely new experience. But before you schedule an appointment with your provider, there are a few questions you should be prepared to ask about their process for seeing patients in this new era.
First, ask your provider if they are following the guidelines recommended by the CDC, state medical board, professional societies, and state, federal and local authorities for the screening and management of suspected COVID-19 patients in their practice. New regulations and guidance are issued regularly, so ask if your provider is staying on top of the changes.
Ask if your provider is following the CDC’s patient assessment protocol for triage and early disease detection. All visitors to the practice should be screened for symptoms of COVID-19 and contact exposure. If you have symptoms or have had exposure, are their protocols in place for you to be isolated from other patients and staff?
Find out how your provider is screening patients for COVID-19 symptoms before they enter the office. Are staff members taking temperatures and histories at a station outside the building, such as in the parking lot? Or, are they asking you to wait in your car for a staff member to meet you to take your information and temperature before you go inside?
Does your provider offer alternatives to face-to-face visits, such as telephone or telemedicine appointments or online self-assessment tools? Trained staff should be available to determine which patients may be managed safely at home versus at the office or a community health center.
Does your provider routinely test their staff for symptoms of COVID-19? Do they take staff members’ temperatures before each work shift, and are staff members provided with appropriate personal protective equipment (masks, gowns, gloves)? Does your provider require you to wear a mask while you’re in the office? What happens if someone refuses to wear a mask in the office?
Does your provider follow the recommended protocols for disinfecting waiting areas and exam rooms between patients? Do they have a formal infection control policy that includes transmission-based precautions such as contact precautions, droplet precautions and airborne precautions? Is this policy available for you to review?
Are the waiting areas and other common areas in the office set up for social distancing? Are the chairs spaced to keep visitors six feet apart? Or does your provider ask you to wait in your car until it’s time for you to be seen? Does your provider have protocols for patient movement through the office that limits contact with others?
You may have other questions for your provider as well. But remember, this is an unprecedented time in health care and the changes to practice procedures are new to providers and patients alike. Be patient with your provider as they adjust to the new guidelines and regulations and put them into practice in their offices. The rules are for everyone’s safety and health!
- WHO Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Dashboard
- Coronavirus pandemic: Updates from around the world
- COVID-19 and Patient Safety in the Medical Offices
*COVID-19, primarily a respiratory illness, is caused by the severe acute respiratory coronavirus 2, or SARS-CoV-2. As of May 21, 2020, more than five million people worldwide have been infected with COVID-19 and more than 328,000 people have died from the infection.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people with COVID-19 have shown a wide array of symptoms that range from mild to severe. The most common symptoms reported are cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fever, chills, muscle pain, sore throat and new loss of taste or smell.
Other, less common symptoms have also been reported with COVID-19. These include gastrointestinal ailments such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Trouble breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, new confusion, inability to wake up or stay awake and bluish lips or face are emergency warning signs that require immediate medical attention.