Local providers share how care has changed during the pandemic and weigh in on what innovations are likely here to stay.
We are actually looking at a pretty significant investment in our robotic disinfection fleet. – Eli Smith, COO of West Jefferson Medical Center
COVID-19 has challenged healthcare providers on multiple fronts, including figuring out how to treat the virus, how to obtain personal protective equipment for staff, and how to safely treat non-COVID-19 positive patients during a pandemic. Many of those early adaptations are continuing to impact how healthcare providers do business, and how patients experience treatment.
One of the biggest concerns withCOVID-19 is limiting exposure. One way to do this is by limiting interactions, starting with checking in for an appointment.
“Patients can check in online in their vehicles so there aren’t multiple patients waiting in the waiting rooms,” said Dr. Ahmad Jabbar, an interventional cardiologist at the Cardiovascular Institute of the South, “but we don’t stop the patients from coming to the clinic and checking in in person, if that’s what they’re more comfortable with.”
Will online check-ins continue when the pandemic is gone? St. Tammany Parish Hospital COO Sharon Toups is betting on yes.
“I think we’ll probably have smaller waiting rooms and, much like you check in for your flight at an airport, you’ll be able to check in before you come, fill out all your information, and then we can text you when the physician is ready or when we can bring you back to a room,” Toups said.
Visitation is another issue that has been addressed at St. Tammany Parish Hospital, which currently permits one visitor per patient.
“Our visitor policy has probably been revised four or five times throughout the COVID track,” said Toups. “We’re used to having pretty open visitation for patients, but we do want to keep our patients, and also the visitors, coming into the hospital as safe as possible.”
Maintenance of a clean and safe environment is paramount in the medical field. In addition to hand sanitizer, social distancing and mask mandates, facilities are turning to technology to keep their spaces sanitary.
“We are actually looking at a pretty significant expansion in our robotic disinfection fleet,” said Eli Smith, COO of West Jefferson Medical Center. “We’re investing roughly a half a million dollars in an effort to ensure that the environment is kept sterile, clean and safe for our patients, visitors and staff.”
St. Tammany Parish Hospital is also utilizing UV technology to help sanitize its facilities.
“Everything gets cleaned as you would normally clean it, then [we take that] extra step to really make sure that room is ready for the next patient,” Toups said.
NEW WAYS TO DELIVER CARE
Another innovation borne of necessity in the early days of the pandemic was the development of drive-through care.
“West Jefferson was the first facility in the state to establish a drive-through COVID-19 testing facility,” said Smith. “The model we had put into place was the model that was subsequently adopted by Jefferson Parish. It’s a model we continue to maintain, really to both expand access to testing and to make sure that we’re avoiding any potential for co-mingling of asymptomatic patients with otherwise healthy patients.”
Michael Griffin is president and CEO of DePaul Community Health Centers of New Orleans. His facility set up a drive-through to distribute pharmacy medications and WIC vouchers.
“We would bring [the vouchers] out to the car as the person came through — we didn’t want additional traffic to come in the building,” he said.
St. Tammany Parish Hospital is planning to expand its use of drive-throughs for both testing and injections, like flu shots.
“We’re going to design our new physician offices with easy access in and out in order for our staff to be able to go out and serve patients in that capacity,” she said.
SHIFT TO TELEHEALTH
COVID-19 also brought about a rapid expansion of telehealth services.
West Jefferson Medical Center didn’t offer telehealth in 2019, but expects to have provided more than 30,000 telehealth visits from March through December of 2020.
“Telehealth is going to remain a point of emphasis for us,” Smith said. “We will be making just north of $2 million in planned improvements and enhancements to our facility and that will include the acquisition of some technology to really limit [the necessity to have to come to] our campus. It will also expand our telemetry coverage and capabilities.”
Greg Stock, CEO of Thibodaux Regional Health System, said telemedicine has helped his network of hospitals and urgent care centers expand treatment, and also reach out to other medical professionals outside of the region for help.
“We brought in a group of doctors from New York City via telemedicine — New York was way ahead of us in terms of when COVID hit, so they had a lot of experience and brought expertise to our ICU and CCU (critical care unit) that was needed at the time,” he said.
Dr. Patrick Waring, founder of the Pain Intervention Center in Metairie, sees telemedicine as a useful tool to not only bring the patient to the doctor, but the doctor to the patient.
“If the physician has to be away, then we do telemedicine visits in reverse — patients can be at my office with my staff and I can interact with them,” Waring said.
Dr. Stacy Greene of DePaul Community Health Centers believes telemedicine is here to stay.
“It can be efficient for us and more convenient for our patients because every health matter doesn’t have to be solved through a face-to-face visit,” he said. “If you can save a person time getting on public transportation or taking that commute to a health facility, it’s more convenient for the patient and better overall in helping to keep our facility safe.”
We brought in a group of doctors from New York City via telemedicine…they had a lot of experience [with COVID-19] and brought expertise to our ICU and CCU that was needed at the time. – Greg Stock, CEO of Thibodaux Regional Health System