COVID-19 Pandemic: Our Richfield Clinic Experience
Much of what we hear about the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact comes from the hospital perspective with particular attention paid to intensive care units. I’d like to share our clinic perspective.
When the Hennepin Healthcare neighborhood clinics went into “COVID mode”, all routine visits were canceled. Providers worked from home at times and virtual visits were encouraged. It became apparent early on that virtual visits were going to be difficult to manage and were not as accessible as an in-person visit. MyChart is required for a virtual visit and is only available in English. Also, patients must have a device that could handle video visits and there were patients who were not “tech savvy”. It is also hard to do a physical exam over a Zoom call. Our elderly patients who needed to see their providers were confused about why we were not seeing patients in the clinic. Virtual visits are just not the same as an in-person appointment, but we needed to find a way to care for patients while keeping them safe and healthy.
Our next phase saw patients who were scared about coming to clinic fearing exposure to COVID-19. Patients with diabetes, asthma, heart disease and other chronic conditions were not coming in for routine care and labs. At the same time we heard that patients were avoiding the emergency room because of COVID-19 concerns. It was important for us to make sure our patients continued their routine care.
In early May, we became a COVID-19 testing site seeing walk-ins and testing up to 110 patients a day. Now we are seeing patients from all over the metro area. We have been seeing asymptomatic patients that were involved in protests and community rebuilding, children exposed to COVID-19 positive daycare workers, and some ill patients. The viral clinic takes up half of our clinic, so now we have more providers and medical assistants sharing our other team center. We still have a lab staff of two who handles COVID-19 testing in addition to their usual duties. The clinic is overwhelmed.
This is a unique time in my career at Hennepin Healthcare. Being a primary care physician during this time reminds me why I became a doctor. I love the inner workings of the human body and wanted to help people. I became a family medicine doctor because I like taking care of people from the “womb to the tomb”. I also like the variety of patients seen in our clinic. I always say, “you never have the same day twice”.
During this time I have had some very intense discussions with patients; sometimes just listening, exchanging ideas, or providing information. Being able to calm someone’s fears about COVID-19 and watching them relax makes my day. With social media and all the COVID-19 unknowns, people are scared of getting sick. Being able to provide them with real-time information has been rewarding. I explain to patients that the number of cases is not the number we need to be worried about, because that number is just the number of positive tests. Most people who have COVID-19 are asymptomatic or have mild illness. The majority of patients recover. We need to keep an eye on hospitalizations, ICU care and deaths. I encourage people to stay home if they are ill, practice proper hand hygiene, wear masks when out in public, and avoid large crowds, especially indoors. I feel appreciated more than ever when people say, “thanks for being here”, and “you guys are heroes”.
COVID-19 has brought us together as a clinic. Communication and teamwork are more important than ever. Flexibility and adaptability are a daily challenge as decisions are made and processes are implemented only to be changed the next day. Balancing furloughs and staffing the clinic appropriately is another challenge. I remember early on saying of all people who need to work now, it is us, essential workers! We have become more patient and forgiving of one another. We understand how difficult this is for everyone at work and at home. We can’t give high fives and we can’t see each other’s smiles, but we all know we are all in this together.
Dana Rae Barr, MD, FAAFP, is a family medicine doctor who practices at our Richfield Clinic. Dr. Barr cares for patients of all ages. She is committed to providing patient and family-centered care.