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Melanie Denton: Changes will come to visits during phase one

By Melaine Denton

Medical offices ranging from Dentists to gynecologists, allergists and eye doctors have all been shut down or working with very limited capacity since March 17 when the CDC recommended a postponement of routine care and canceling elective surgeries due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Leading up to the move into phase one of the stay-at-home order lifting, medical providers are carefully monitoring Centers for Disease and Health and Human Services guidelines in order to reopen their offices and resume care in a safe manner. As I’ve been making these preparations for my own office, it is apparent to me how much different this will make the experience for our patients, so I wanted to summarize some of the differences people can expect to see as they start to resume routine and preventative care in the coming weeks.

The CDC and Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services have continued to support the idea of social distancing, and this will be maintained even in health care settings. As such, people should call their doctor to find out the reopening schedule. Don’t be surprised if they are doing a “soft open” or “limited access” opening where they see medically necessary non-urgent or emergent cases. An example in my setting would be glaucoma patients, diabetic eye exams, ocular surface disorder exams or cataract evaluations. It’s possible your doctor may begin seeing patients for medically necessary visits like these before routine exams fully resume.

In addition, offices may not see patients with the same frequency. Depending on space and number of exam rooms and available clinical assistance, doctors may spread out the schedule more so that fewer patients have time to interact in the waiting room. In our case, we often have patients picking up glasses or contact lenses, and we will be scheduling those appointments so that we can control the number of people in our office at any given time.

The in-office experience will differ greatly.

Two weeks ago, we began the process of preparing our waiting room environment to promote social distancing. Just as some stores have implemented one-way aisles or have placed stickers on the floor to encourage social distance, we must consider how patients will flow through our offices.

You may not be able to have family members accompany you to your appointment. If you must have a driver, they may have to stay in the car until your appointment concludes.

Some offices may have text-to-enter where we limit your time in the office.

You may not be able to schedule multiple family members all on the same day.

All patients/vsitors must wear a mask and undergo screening questions/tests for COVID-19.

Our policies regarding re-opening change daily and like other healthcare professionals, I am monitoring my state board recommendations daily along with federal ones. Some of these measures will feel like a hindrance, but with such a deadly enemy in COVID-19, it’s important to do everything we can to keep you safe.

Our team will look different.

We’ll be in scrubs, first of all. We’ll also be wearing protective equipment, including masks and face shields. You may interact with our team differently as well.

We’ve completely stopped shaking hands, and you may notice us running around and cleaning surfaces behind you. Please don’t take it personally. We just want to keep everyone as safe as possible. In our case, we have patients trying on glasses often. We’ve instituted a glasses cleaning station to make sure we’re keeping our glasses samples hygienic as well.

Just like a get together with your friends, sometimes you have to bring your own supplies. In this case, at your healthcare appointments, we ask you to bring your own protective equipment — specifically a mask. Current Centers for Medicaid Services guidelines indicate the need for masks for all – staff and patients. If you do not have a mask  we will provide it to you.

Telemedicine has proven to be a very effective and engaging tool to use and has helped me see many patients, treating them and keeping them from having to seek care elsewhere where the potential for exposure to COVID-19 may be greater.

I anticipate we will continue to use telemedicine in some cases as we start to reopen our office. The Centers for Medicaid Services specifically call for heavily implementing telemedicine throughout phase one of opening our state back up.

As has been the case throughout the pandemic, if you have an eye injury or eye pain, call us first. We will assess your case and make the decision to see you via telemedicine or in person as appropriate.

Ultimately, as healthcare providers, we are tasked with keeping our patients safe. As the oath goes — first, do no harm. While some of the measures we’re putting in place seem over the top or extreme, we cannot underestimate the potential for COVID-19 to harm our patients and our staff.

It’s of critical importance to  adhere to the guidelines to protect you and us.

Denton practices medical optometry at her office, Salisbury Eyecare and Eyewear, in downtown Salisbury. Email her at info@salisburyeyecareandeyewear.com



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