People who have put off a medical check-up or procedures due to the coronavirus can begin to make appointments again starting Friday May 1, 2020. There are several changes in store, however, for patients when they arrive for medical visits.
The first phase of Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s reopening plan includes allowing elective procedures and in-person doctor visits. Elective surgeries involving an overnight hospital stay are allowed under some specific conditions, such as if the patient is in extreme pain.
Wearing masks will not be optional for people who are receiving health services in hospitals and doctors' offices in Northeast Ohio. Patients will not be allowed in any University Hospitals facility without a cloth mask, said Dr. Daniel Simon, chief clinical officer at UH.
“If somebody coming doesn’t have one we will provide them with one,” Simon said.
Cleveland Clinic, MetroHealth, and Summa Health in Akron, also said that masks are required in their hospitals and physicians’ offices. All of the major hospital systems will also continue screening people before they enter to make sure they don’t have symptoms of the virus or a temperature.
An army of staff have been deep cleaning UH facilities and moving furniture to make sure people can maintain six feet of social distance in waiting rooms, said Simon.
UH will also try to keep waiting rooms empty by asking patients to remain in their cars for a text message.
“We can tell you, ‘Mrs. Smith, your doctor’s running a little bit behind for your 10 o’clock.' We’ll text you with a five minute heads up, and then we’ll ask you to come in and we’ll take you right into the exam room,” he said.
“Obviously in the large academic centers, where parking can be 10 or 15 minutes away, the timing will be a little bit tougher,” Simon said.
Cleveland Clinic also plans to use similar technology so patients can wait in cars for a message, said Dr. Beri Ridgeway, who is part of the team involved with the hospital system’s COVID planning.
The team spoke of creating a system somewhat like cell phone parking lots at airports, Ridgeway said.
“We will have a digital solution to help patients so that we don’t have areas where people are congregating,” she said.
The team is also looking for solutions for valet parking which many hospital patients use, she said.
“We’ve talked about for our valet, no one wants to drop their car off, right? Do you want the valet in your car? Does the valet want to be in your car?” Ridgeway said.
The clinic doesn’t have a solution yet for the valet or for people who walk or take the bus to appointments but they are working on it, she said.
At MetroHealth hospitals and doctors’ offices patients will also notice chairs have been moved or removed so people can’t sit right next to each, said Mike Tobin, hospital spokesman.
People are relieved that they can see their doctors face-to-face again, even though doctors have continued seeing patients during the shut-down period primarily through telehealth visits, Tobin said.
“There are some things in health care where you need to meet with your doctors and they need to put their hands on you to figure out exactly what’s going on,” he said.
All of the major local health systems are stressing that they are putting safety first because they worry that even though Gov. DeWine has given the green light, many patients will still opt to wait a while.
Cleveland Clinic ER traffic has been very light and patients are avoiding the hospital right now, said Ridgeway.
“We do worry when people don’t come in for screenings and other things we are missing as a society those cancers which will continue to worsen or grow,” she said.
There is also good data that shows people are deferring care for chest pain, Ridgeway said.
“And if people are deferring care for chest pain. What else are we missing?” she said.
Putting off medical care not only has health implications, but it also has an impact on the economy. The Ohio Hospital Association estimates hospitals have collectively lost billions of dollars because they could not perform elective surgeries like hip replacements.
And newly released data on the nation’s Gross Domestic Product for the first quarter of this year shows lower hospital revenue has contributed to the downward turn in the economy according to the New York Times.
Dr. Paul Mikhli, the owner of Beachwood Dental, said he has personally taken a huge financial hit.
“For the last month and a half it's been tough because we’ve had no income,” Mikhli said.
As he prepares to start seeing dental patients again on Friday, his office will also require patients to wear masks. His staff will also take temperatures of patients, and ask them to practice social distancing in the waiting room. It’s not often, however, that there are more than one or two people waiting, he said.
Mikhli said he is cautiously optimistic about resuming his practice but there is no guarantee that there won’t be bumps in the road.
“We’re not out of the woods yet. We have to see what happens in May. As May starts progressing there needs to be no pop-ups of cases. I mean if you have a dental office that starts to get COVID everyone’s gonna start to get afraid,” he said.
His staff is used to wearing protective equipment because this has been a requirement for dentists for decades, since the AIDs epidemic, he said.
Some of his staff members, however, have expressed they want even more protection and plan to wear face shields as the office reopens.