Changes to Urgent Care Centers due to COVID-19 Pandemic
Written by: Ravi Bains
The health care industry has progressed almost a decade in one year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, there are new policies in place in order to create an environment in which we can practice medicine safely, serve the community, and stand true to our identity as an urgent care center.
One can even argue that it has been tougher for urgent care centers in the beginning phases as we stayed open to serve our community and facilitate care, all while keeping our staff safe during the stressful time fighting the odds with an unknown virus.
Our mission was to keep the load off the emergency rooms (ER) by evaluating and testing for COVID-19 patients with mild symptoms. Our providers educated patients on CDC guidelines and navigated patients to quarantine at home or to go to the ER, if medically necessary.
In our own way, we tried to be a deciding pathway for COVID-19 positive patients to either go home with proper instructions to quarantine and care for themselves, or go to the ER for further evaluation.
The initial strategy that we implemented to limit points of contact with hands or items was doing paperless registration. Paperless, contactless documents and consent forms were not being utilized as often as they should have been in a lot of clinics, including our own. This tool has increased efficiency internally at the front desk and with the medical staff, since they get an insight on what services the patients are coming in the clinics for. This tool has raised patient satisfaction as well, since they fill out forms in the comfort of their own homes. Registration and insurance verification are completed by the time they come into our clinic, which means less time in the waiting room.
Telemedicine or telehealth, without a doubt, has exponentially took off as a mode to practice medicine in the past year. That is mostly due to insurance restrictions being lifted. Insurances have since approved telemedicine reimbursements and rules during the pandemic and the world was able to benefit of the use of medical care through video visits.
Finally, we expanded our offerings to curbside COVID-19 testing/evaluations. This was mainly to lower the spread of the virus, and offer diagnosis capability that adds to patient care and community public health data.
Some questions worth exploring now and in the future are...
Is curbside testing a new initiative for future urgent care drive-thru options when diagnosing minor illnesses?
Are we going to stay in an accelerated mode or relax as the pandemic ceases and go back to our traditional practice, where patients could be waiting in the waiting room for a straightforward testing (such as a strep test)?
Will we continue to cater to patients who prefer to get evaluated and seen curbside/drive-thru for their minor illnesses after the pandemic is behind us?
All of these decisions will surely depend on what makes medical services efficient without compromising patient care.