1. Stay up to date on recommendations. Information on the coronavirus changes daily. Last week we were only screening patients with travel history. This week, we’ve realized travel history no longer matters. At first, we assumed those infected would have fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Now we know that younger people could present with a mild cold. In the midst of ever-changing recommendations, it’s imperative that we stay up to speed. Guidelines are being updated by the minute, so second-hand resources may no longer be accurate. Let’s stay armed with the newest info from the most reputable sources.
2. Protect yourself. In the midst of this crisis, we know health care professionals are needed. Much of medicine relies on the altruism of health care workers, and we are often happy to make this sacrifice. However, it’s imperative that we (as doctors and health care workers) protect ourselves as well. If too many doctors get overexposed and infected due to improper protection, there are fewer people who can care for patients, which could cause the whole medical system to collapse. Solution: Put your own oxygen mask on first. Before trying to treat patients, make sure that you are protected. Be diligent about sanitizing in and out of patient rooms. Wear a mask when evaluating a patient with respiratory complaints. Stay home if you feel sick yourself.
3. Minimize exposure to potentially sick patients. In this critical period, we have to decrease exposure to sick or asymptomatic patients. This means canceling elective surgical procedures that can wait a couple of weeks. Postpone non-urgent clinic visits. Do telemedicine for hospital follow-ups and necessary checkups. Screen patients via phone call to determine if acute sick visits need to be seen in traditional clinics or specialty COVID clinics. The goal is to minimize exposure to health care workers.
4. Be flexible with staff. Now that schools and daycares are closing, many people are scrambling to find childcare. While some workers once relied on grandparents or “in-laws,” these groups may be at higher risk for coronavirus complications and thus may not be the ideal people to keep children who could be asymptomatic vectors. Although physicians may be able to afford other arrangements, this may not be an option for our staff. As the childcare options dwindle, they are forced to stay home with their kids, which may severely impact the number of medical assistants and nurses available in the office. Some clinics may even be forced to move to telemedicine options or postpone visits altogether.
5. Protect your family. As doctors who are on the front lines of this crisis, we need to be mindful of not only ourselves but our loved ones. While many of us are young and healthy with robust immune systems, not everyone in our family may be as fortunate. In order to minimize exposure to our loved ones, we should consider some additional actions. For example, perhaps we should spray our work clothes with disinfectant before walking into our homes or change out of work clothes as we leave the office. Perhaps we should practice some social distancing from our elderly family members to minimize exposure and keep our children indoors to decrease the risk of transmission and asymptomatic carriers.
My point? As doctors, we have a duty to treat patients and stay up to date on ever-changing guidelines. We should protect ourselves, be mindful of decreasing exposure to our family members, and be flexible with our support staff.
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