For more than two months, clinics, hospitals and other healthcare facilities have been focused on COVID-19 and taking care of other emergency medical needs, while postponing elective and non-essential medical services. Now many healthcare providers are ready to start getting back to routine medical care.
“The care that everyone considers routine that has been going on for years and years: vaccinations, cancer screenings, medical condition screenings like diabetes, high blood pressure, that’s really kind of paused a little bit,” Sanford’s Vice President Medical Officer Mike Wilde said.
At both Sanford and Avera, many surgeries or procedures considered elective have also been cancelled or postponed since the pandemic began.
“It’s been a significant amount,” Avera Chief Medical Officer Kevin Post said. “At one of our sites I’ve heard of 1,600, nearly 2,000 procedures, and that’s at just one of our sites.”
But what will it look like when those postponed procedures can now continue? Will area healthcare systems see a wave of people waiting to get their healthcare needs addressed or will people stay away for fear of getting exposed to the coronavirus?
“That is a question we’re not sure quite how that’s going to go. We suspect people will want to get in but we also need to make it seem safe for them to come in,” Post said.
Post says safety will be key moving forward to help patients as they weigh their fear of getting exposed to the virus and the medical needs they’re experiencing.
“That’s one of our concerns here at Avera and with other health systems are those needs that are not being addressed now,” Post said.
“We’ve never in our clinical experience have had episodes where we’ve had a two month pause in a lot of that care, so now we’re trying to figure out how to get back to that,” Wilde said. “And the ramifications of taking a two month pause. We’re really concerned with where this could be headed if we don’t get after it here pretty quickly.”
Wilde expects to see a slow return to routine healthcare until more people feel comfortable meeting with their care provider.
“Number one priority is just patient comfort and getting patients engaged in that again,” Wilde said.
Both healthcare systems are working to help ensure patients and staff are safe as they now begin to re-open.
“I think going to the doctor is going to be like other changes we’ve seeing in society. There’s going to be screening, there’s going to be masks, there’s going to be social distancing for the foreseeable future, but the care you receive is going to be like you’re accustomed to,” Wilde said.
So while a visit to your doctor might look a little different than you’re used to.
“You may see some things that are visibly different, such as plexiglass when you come into the waiting room, there may be some spacing differences in the waiting rooms, try to keep our patients six feet apart, maybe asking you to wait in your cars until your time is there,” Post aid.
Healthcare officials say they’re ready to get back to routine healthcare.
“We are ready, we have the equipment, we have our staff been properly equipped,” Post said. “We’re not taking our eye off the pandemic, coronavirus is going to be here with us we anticipate another 12 to 18 months, but we have to learn to live with COVID and take care of our patients, so we are ready to reopen.”
Learning to live with the threat of COVID while still making sure your other health needs are not neglected.
“We’re seeing a lot of examples of cancer diagnosis that we typically would see at a certain rate that we’re not seeing,” Wilde said. “Unfortunately it’s not that the cancers have gone away it’s that the cancers are not being seen in a timely manner…don’t be afraid to come in, we’re here for you and we want to get you cared for because there are some very significant illnesses out there that need to be addressed.”
Avera and Sanford say primary care providers are helping to assess which patient surgeries and procedures to prioritize as those services re-open.
Some small adjustments are also being made to visitor policies at some providers but those visitor policies could continue to evolve based on COVID cases in the community.