While the pandemic’s future in the US is uncertain, the available evidence indicates that local flare ups are increasingly likely, and another wave a real risk. And if the wave coincides with the start of flu season, it would put an enormous strain on doctors and their practices. Another concern is that since the COVID-19 pandemic began, far fewer children have been getting their regular vaccinations. An outbreak of pertussis (whooping cough), measles, flu, or other preventable diseases in children could also complicate the picture, making it harder for doctors and hospitals to care for all patients. Many jurisdictions will have a plan to open up but not a plan to reclose, leading to more situations like New York, New Orleans, and Detroit where there’s extreme strains on the health care.”[ii] That’s why healthcare organizations and medical practices should further prepare now.[iii]
Recommend flu vaccines to patients (and staff): As a health care professional, your strong recommendation is a critical factor that affects whether your patients get an influenza vaccine. Most adults believe vaccines are important, but they need a reminder from you to get vaccinated. Follow up with each patient during subsequent appointments to ensure the patient received an influenza vaccine. If the patient still is unvaccinated, repeat the recommendation to try to identify and address any questions or concerns. It’s likely that flu viruses and the virus that causes COVID-19 will both be spreading this fall and winter, making it more important than ever that ALL healthcare workers get a flu vaccine![iv]
Maintain PPE supplies: “Maintaining relationships with suppliers as well as leaning on the local community are two important factors in making sure practices maintain the appropriate amount of PPE,” says Alicia Wright, M.D., a pediatrician for Holston Medical Group in Kingsport, Tennessee.[v]
Use protocols for telehealth and virtual care: During the upcoming flu season, doctors will need to leverage telehealth to virtually assess symptomatic patients and conduct drive-through flu and COVID-19 testing. “Practices should be building these protocols now,” says Jeff Bullard, M.D., family medicine specialist at MaxHealth in Colleyville, Texas.[vi]
“Most doctors are now well down that path of optimizing and integrating this new delivery model,” he says. “At the same time, factors like the fear of a reversal of insurance parity and the need to rightsize the financial strain COVID-19 has placed on practices are tempting doctors to move back to what was comfortable and abandon televisits in favor of in-office visits.”
Engage patients: Increase patient contact and communication. What may have once felt like overcommunicating should be the goal moving forward.
Now is the time to update social media channels to keep patients informed about safety protocols in place and what to expect during a visit.
“At my clinic, during [COVID-19], we utilized text, email, portal, website and social media messages to educate patients about limiting exposure and staying home safely while simultaneously informing them about available virtual visit, in-person visits, parking lot check-ins and drive-through testing,” Bullard says. “Our patients reported feeling appreciative, connected and supported during a stressful time.”[vii]
Communicate with Staff: Increase staff awareness and ensure they have the appropriate resources to do their jobs each day, especially when dealing with COVID-19 situations.
Maintain Infection Control: Dedicated medical equipment should be used for infected patients and any non-dedicated or non-disposable equipment should be cleaned and disinfected. Environmental cleaning and disinfection procedures should be followed consistently and correctly including routine cleaning and disinfection.[viii]