The Doctor’s Office after A Year of Covid
On March 11th 2020, we all became aware of the full impact of Covid-19 on our lives and by March 21st we were put into lockdown in New York City. A whole year later and our lives and minds have changed in too many ways to mention here. Let’s talk about the family doctors’ offices.
We all know the risk the front-line workers took daily in hospitals and clinics all around the world and applauded them. They were exhausted and drained emotionally and physically with the reality of a virus that caused inexplicable deaths in so many people in such a short space of time.Non-emergent hospital visits, surgeries, treatments, follow-ups, consultations were all postponed.
Then nine months later, Covid vaccines are delivered (an ordinarily typical gestation period) and are being distributed to these same hospitals, clinics and now pharmacies who have consistently kept their doors open throughout the lockdowns and restrictions.
What about doctors’ offices? What about the doctor you saw routinely for your annual physical, acute visits, immunizations and continuity of care for all types of ailments? We were mandated to close our doors, volunteered where we could and turned to telehealth to treat our patients remotely and through computer screens. Office staff were furloughed like in other businesses. Just as working from home became convenient and fashionable, so was telemedicine.
As soon as we were permitted back in May 2020, we re-opened our doors and waited for patients to return to normal face-to-face (now mask-to-mask) examinations. We had sterilized, Hepa-filtered, and re-configured our rooms, PPE’d-up, took back our staff, cut back schedules and followed all screening policies and guidelines. We were confident that we posed less of a risk than a visit to the average local supermarket.
Patients still remained reluctant to book their in-office appointments. Social Distancing was easy to enforce. The Covid vaccine at last offered hope, for all of us. Our patients were delighted to hear that our office had become an approved vaccine-provider by New York State. We filled in numerous and lengthy forms, we attended, and continue to attend, regular webinars, fill in daily surveys online and place our orders weekly, expectantly. Three months later and large hospitals, clinics, stadiums, conference centers and pharmacies are all getting vaccine supplies but the family doctors’ offices, the ones that know their patients and all their conditions and allergies, who regularly administer and document flu shots and other immunizations for their patients, are still waiting. Every day we have patients asking us if we have received the vaccine to save them the trouble of scouring the internet for hours for appointments or traveling farther to vaccine centers. Every day we say “not yet”. Every day they are asking for letters to prove their eligibility or to ask questions on the vaccine, possible allergic reactions and side effects. Some have a terrible rash for days after being vaccinated and others feel weak or feverish.
If they had been able to come to our office for their Covid vaccine, they would have received the usual personal attention that would far outweigh any worry or anxiety they would feel. But no. It would seem apparent that the family doctor’s office is not considered a suitable conduit for a vaccine rollout that involves millions of vaccine doses administered a day. Blame it on logistics, on strict state eligibility criteria, on insufficient patient numbers, and minimize the advantage of the personal care and convenience to patients, and you have the possible reasons.
Of course, we are happy that our patients are getting vaccinated, and feel privileged that our country is one of the first to roll out this program to get us out of our restricted lives. How can we complain if the vaccine roll-out serves the vulnerable, the most at risk and the elderly? Most patients have actually said the vaccine centers were well-organized and efficient. Our gratitude and relief is great.
The doctors’ offices will just continue to wait for their turn to play another important role in this battle against the Coronavirus and hope that our patients too will be patient and continue to count on us for their general well-being, preventive care and healthcare needs and, yes, as usual, their annual flu shot. See you soon, on our screens or in our offices.