Most people who need health care get it in an ambulatory or outpatient location, rather than a hospital. OSF primary care and specialty practices have implemented new precautions to keep those spaces as safe as possible for anyone in need of care.
“We continue to manage medical conditions unrelated to COVID-19. Patient health and wellness is very important during these times,” said Sarah Overton. Sarah is vice president and chief nursing officer of clinical services for OSF Multispecialty Services, which includes most outpatient medical offices.
“Medical conditions don’t take a break during a pandemic, and we need to provide safe ambulatory care and management of those conditions.”
Changes in the office
One of the most obvious changes brought on by COVID-19 has been widespread masking.
Following guidelines from the CDC, OSF is asking everyone who comes to any of our facilities – health care workers, patients and visitors – to wear a mask at all times.
“Masking not only protects the patient or health care worker, but it protects everyone from transmission. Masking has shown to slow the spread of the virus even when people may not have become symptomatic,” Sarah said.
And while we’ve adapted to minimize the amount of time someone might spend in a shared space such as a waiting room, OSF has also implemented distancing in those areas. Chairs have been arranged with plenty of space in between them to allow for physical distancing.
“We’ve stocked our practices with necessary tissues, hand sanitizer and trash cans for patient and Mission Partner use. We’ve removed some of the chairs from the waiting areas, so patients can sit six feet apart, whenever possible. And we’ve removed toys, reading materials and other objects that cannot be easily cleaned,” Sarah said.
While medical offices have always routinely cleaned and disinfected, those cleanings are now happening more frequently.
We’re following strict guidelines provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for cleaning and disinfecting. Each patient room is cleaned between visits, and shared areas like waiting rooms and reception areas are disinfected several times a day.
“Our teams have enhanced the cleaning efforts to ensure that we are increasing cleaning for those areas that are touched frequently, like pens, counters, door knobs,” Sarah said.
An important part of keeping healthy people from being infected is limiting their exposure to someone who might be sick.
OSF offices have adapted to a routine of scheduling wellness visits and preventive care, such as immunizations, check-ups and physicals, in the morning. Afternoon appointments are often reserved for patients who might be sick, allowing time for disinfection in between.
The added option of virtual visits also gives people an easy, convenient way to access many types of care from home.
“We’re seeing comments from our patients and caregivers saying, “Why didn’t you offer this sooner?” And we definitely agree, virtual and telehealth services really offers a nice complement to medical care on the go,” Sarah said.
She adds that she’s eager to see if there will be as much call for video visits after the COVID-19 pandemic subsides.
“It seems like this crisis has opened a new communication pathway for our patients to get care remotely when they need it. It could allow us to serve a greater number of patients in communities where we do not have a particular specialty. This honestly allows our patients to say close to their home, expedite care and be safe and convenient,” Sarah said.
For those patients who are seen for an in-person visits, a pre-visit screening over the phone helps medical professionals assess any symptoms, such as a fever or cough, which might require additional precautions or be better served in another setting.
“OSF is here for our patients and families. We are their connection to health care, and we have taken great effort to ensure we have followed the appropriate protocols and recommendations of governmental agencies while respecting the needs of our communities. We are ready to welcome our patients back and hope to see them soon!”