The Challenges Presented by the New Normal
While telehealth is the answer to the growing need for safe medical care, a majority of practices and treatments require in-person visits. The impact on these groups are severe and some are considered occupational risks with a number of these tagged as non-essential. Included on this list are dental practices, dermatology clinics, obstetrics and gynecology, and nursing home staff.
The American Academy of Pediatrics is reminding the public to get their flu and pneumonia shots for protection against severe COVID-19. A physician cannot administer the vaccine through the computer and even with a doctor on the line providing guidance, not everyone can administer these kinds of medications themselves.
Government Actions and Guidance for Practitioners
Government efforts are also focused on creating a safe, new normal. They have rolled out guidance for physicians who plan to reopen their businesses on the federal, state, or local levels through channels like the CDC, the American Medical Association (AMA) and the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA)1 2 3 4 . Federal government agencies for health and safety have included the much-needed Medicare and Medicaid assistance on their guidelines.5
At the state level, government action in hard-hit states such as California, New York, Florida, and Texas include stay-at-home orders from as early as March. A majority of states have reopened within a month, but California and New York are reopening their states in increments. Initiatives like low-cost to free temporary lodging, round-trip flights for medical volunteers, free mental health support, and lifted penalties for telehealth services were also included to support critical front-line care workers .7 8
Non-urgent practices are given additional guidelines. For example, dental clinics are encouraged to prioritize dental emergencies like uncontrolled bleeding and cellulitis while
fostering proactive communication with their patients9 10. Procedures that require pain management and relief are considered urgent and should be treated through minimally invasive procedures. Telehealth is encouraged for these practices to reduce the risks employees face in business premises and in screening patients for COVID-1911.
Clinics are given guidelines that stretch across hygiene, patient management, wearing of PPE, and managing operations and facilities. These include but are not limited to reduced waiting room sizes, temperature checks, enhanced and continuous ventilation system maintenance, telehealth patient screening before visits, and provision of foot baths and hand sanitizers. Employees are also encouraged to work in separate shifts to avoid possible cross-contamination.
New Normal Recommendations for Patients
Physicians and other healthcare providers may have a long list of rules and guidelines to follow, but patients also play a role in maintaining safety in the new normal. 12
Patients are advised to do some research before heading out to their doctors. This includes calling the clinic or visiting their website to learn about the new rules and safety protocols. Patients who need to see their physician are required to schedule an appointment prior to going to the clinic. The clinic may call patients or ask them to fill out a COVID-19 symptoms checklist. If a patient is experiencing any symptoms, they are given specific instructions.
If the concern is not life-threatening or not COVID-19 related and can be handled remotely, they can opt for a telehealth appointment. Patients also have the option to ask for safer procedures like touchless payments, ordering their prescriptions online, or having their medications delivered to their homes. If patients need to go out for a physical check-up, they are strongly encouraged to follow mandated protocols like wearing masks, carrying hand sanitizers or alcohol, frequent proper hand washing, and observing social distance of at least 6 feet.
Health should not be placed on the backburner, especially in a pandemic. It may take some time and much effort for many to adjust to the new normal and its accompanying guidelines, however, small efforts go a long way in halting the virus’ spread and everyone must play a part.
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