Care in the Time of COVID-19
Local healthcare providers continue to adapt to the demands of the pandemic.
Telehealth/telemedicine visits have representd the lion’s share of our business since the beginning of the pandemic.
Kertrina Watson Lewis, director of communication at Ascension DePaul Services of New Orleans
Since the beginning of COVID-19, healthcare facilities have been on the frontline of a raging war against the virus, and most facilities in Louisiana have modified operations in accordance with the directions laid forth by the Louisiana Department of Health. One of the biggest results of the changes has been a move toward conducting doctor visits remotely in an effort to keep the public safe at home as much as possible.
“Telehealth/telemedicine visits have represented the lion’s share of our business since the beginning of the pandemic,” says Kertrina Watson Lewis, director of communication at Ascension DePaul Services of New Orleans (formerly Daughters of Charity Services of New Orleans), a collection of 10 health centers serving the Greater New Orleans area. “We have also offered greater access to our other services, like pharmacy and WIC, via curbside delivery and mail order, but a major focus for us surrounds symptomatic and asymptomatic COVID-19 testing and antibody testing.”
While the increase in telemedicine services was spurred by COVID-19, it is unlikely to disappear with the virus.
“Telemedicine is here to stay, therefore, fostering a greater reliability on technology, such as remote monitoring of chronically ill patients and actual clinical conditions,” said Lewis. “This is making alternative communication streams more normalized.”
Lewis added that she expects to see technology also continue to play a greater role in providing patient education and communicating with the public.
Telemedicine, however, is not without its limitations, as experienced in specialties like dermatology.
“We need to be able to see, touch and feel rashes, lesions and eruptions in order to render an accurate diagnosis,” said Elizabeth Grieshaber, MD, board certified dermatologist at Terezakis & Grieshaber Dermatology in Metairie. “Cameras on phones and computers are really good, but I find it difficult for patients to keep the camera still for long enough to allow it to autofocus on the area of concern. The other drawback is that cameras provide a two-dimensional view and skin is three-dimensional.”
While people may feel understandably cautious about visiting a doctor right now, many in the medical field are working hard to spread the word that avoiding proper care right now can be riskier than the threat of contracting COVID-19 in a doctor’s office.
COVID-19 has made patients question the necessity of going to a doctor for minor problems due to risk of exposure
Elizabeth Grieshaber, MD, board certified dermatologist at Terezakis & Grieshaber Dermatology
“I have even heard some consider home birth because of rumors and restrictions surrounding delivery. This could be catastrophic for both mother and child. I am hoping confidence in seeking care and having procedures at our hospitals returns soon.”
Health centers have ramped up protection measures. Aside from encouraging telemedicine appointments and providing masks for in-person visits, facilities have been putting numerous precautions in place to adapt to the pandemic.
“We have adapted so many of our programs and services to address the health and safety of our patients and colleagues,” said Melissa Hodgson, assistant vice president of communication at St. Tammany Health System, an extensive collection of health facilities and services out of Covington. “We have introduced UV light disinfection, scaled up our isolation and negative pressure patient care spaces, and reconfigured our workspaces, staffing and policies to ensure social distancing.”
As restrictions have lifted a bit, health providers are also scrambling to play catchup.
“We do know that patients with scheduled care that was elective at the time of the state’s order were inconvenienced,” Hodgson said. “We have expanded our call center hours to give our patients more time to call at their convenience to reschedule anything they put on hold when the stay-at-home order was initiated.”
As with the increase in telemedicine, Hodgson said added safety measures are likely to become permanent.
“Population health, risk-sharing models and other major changes to government and private insurance programs are changing the way healthcare entities are compensated for care,” Hodgson said. “This is a good thing because it puts the focus on improving the health of the population. St. Tammany Health System is on the forefront of these industry changes on the Northshore, in collaboration with community physicians in our St. Tammany Quality Network and with our partner, Ochsner Health.”
Hodgson stressed that those with health needs should be following up with their providers.
“It’s important for people to realize a procedure that wasn’t an emergency two months ago may be more urgent today,” he said, adding that, “The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted and exacerbated chronic illnesses.”
There is good news: Lewis said she is encouraged to see not just healthcare centers, but the public learning valuable lessons from the pandemic.
“The public is more educated on the importance of monitoring social interactions by staying away from others when they are sick, wearing masks and maintaining proper social distance,” she said. “Health care is everyone’s concern and business — what one person does can affect so many others. It’s great that we’re understanding terms such as contact tracing and becoming more cognizant of ways in which we interact physically.”