Either by state-mandated temporary closures or a loss of regular foot traffic, businesses of all types have been greatly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. And your local doctor’s offices or urgent care centers are no different.
Primary care visits across the nation dropped by nearly 50 percent during the coronavirus pandemic while some specialists have seen even steeper declines, according to a recent study from Harvard researchers.
That 50 percent drop in doctor’s appointments holds true locally, Cleburne Family Medicine Administrator Jimmy Frosch said.
“Appointments in the clinic have dropped about 50 percent,” Frosch said. “We’ve picked up some appointments using telemedicine visits now. That’s what we were primarily doing for the last month or two. But the volume of those don’t come close to what we were doing in March with our in-patient volume.”
With a drastic drop in patient visits, Cleburne Family Medicine has also taken a hit in collections.
“April was a terrible month for us,” Frosch said. “Thank goodness we got payroll protection money and some other COVID-related grants that have helped us get through this month and next month. July is going to be a challenge.”
Integrity Urgent Care in Cleburne has also seen nearly a 50 percent drop in visits.
“The Urgent Care Association has conducted weekly surveys with their members and have found that the decline has ... been roughly 50 percent,” Integrity Urgent Care of Cleburne COO Steven Hull said. “All of our locations have experienced a drop in volume in this range.”
While patients may be hesitant to keep their routine check-ups or other scheduled appointments due to COVID-19 fears, Frosch and Hull each stressed that their respective offices are going all out to protect their patients and staffs.
“We have added numerous measures to ensure our patients and teams are safe during this unprecedented time,” Hull said. “The flow for our patients has certainly changed as we have adapted to CDC and state guidelines. Urgent cares are known for delivering fast and affordable healthcare so we have worked around the clock to create a new system that still delivers what an urgent care visit should be while protecting our patients and medical teams.”
Frosch said Cleburne Family Medicine is screening patients for any COVID-related symptoms.
“We have taken every precaution to keep this clinic safe,” Frosch said. “We are not allowing any patient in the clinic that has any COVID-related symptoms; fever, sore throat. We’ll only do telemedicine visits with those patients. Everybody else will be screened by taking their temperature and filling out a COVID questionnaire. If their temperature is above [a certain mark], we won’t let them in.
“We’ll convert their visit to a telemedicine visit. And if they answer ‘yes’ to any of the questionnaire answers, we won’t let them in. We want to make sure we avoid cross contamination. We are taking every precaution.”
Frosch said Cleburne Family Medicine is following all CDC mandates and guidelines and that the staff has gone above and beyond.
“We’ve acquired all of the proper protection equipment — masks, gowns, gloves — and we use them accordingly,” Frosch said. “Our doctors, nurses, PAs and staff are well-versed in infection prevention. They’re well-versed with handling sick patients. None of our providers have contacted COVID.
“We’ve had a couple of employees with elevated fevers but we sent them home and they have to go three days with no temp before they can come back, and most of them come back three days later.”
Hull said it’s important for patients to reach out if they’re in need of medical assistance.
“The introduction of COVID-19 doesn’t stop other illnesses and injuries from occurring, and ignoring those illnesses or injuries could cause more problems down the road,” Hull said. “If a patient is unsure if they should stop by the clinic, we would encourage them to utilize our telemedicine option. We can treat most items through the service and if a visit is determined to be the best course of action, we can follow up with them in the clinic without an additional charge. We want to make sure that our patients are taken care of during this time no matter what illness or injury they may be dealing with.”
Similarly, Frosch urges patients to keep their check-ups, follow-ups, medication refill visits, etc. instead of canceling necessary appointments due to the coronavirus; prolonging time between important doctor visits isn’t advised.
“We’re doing everything possible to keep this place safe,” Frosch said. “We encourage patients to come back to the clinic and let us take care of their ongoing needs. I’m on high blood pressure and cholesterol meds myself, and I should see my doctor once every quarter to make sure I’m staying compliant and to avoid any issues that may come up.
“COVID has kind of put a clamp on that because some people don’t feel comfortable coming in, but we want them to know we’ve done everything we can to keep them safe. Our patients need to be seen.”
Although hours have changed because of the coronavirus outbreak, Cleburne Family Medicine remains open seven days a week for their patients’ health care needs.
The Cleburne and Joshua locations are open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. The Cleburne office is open 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday and 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday.
Cleburne Family Medicine has instituted new safeguards and procedures to protect their patients.
A routine office visit will typically look like this: patients will be called by office staff to verify insurance and collect copay, as well as speak to a clinical staff member to collect intake data and advise the patient where to park and what number to call upon arrival.
From there, the office staff will come out to the patient’s car to check the patient’s temperature as well as ensure the patient is wearing a mask, and then escort the patient to their designated patient room.
Texas Health Resources
In mid-March, Texas Health Resources announced a series of safety and screening measures in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
“These are important steps to take as we focus on the safety and health of everyone — our patients, visitors, caregivers and people throughout the communities we serve,” said Barclay Berdan, CEO of Texas Health. “We think consumers will understand the reason for these measures and will fully support our efforts to control the spread of this virus.”
Major new safety measures by Texas Health include significantly reducing the number of entrances used at its facilities across North Texas to funnel traffic to screening stations. At those access points, everyone — including patients, visitors and anyone with them — will be screened for symptoms of COVID-19.
Anyone who shows any symptom of the virus will be required to put on a medical mask before entering the facility. Also, Texas Health is limiting the number of visitors allowed per patient to two.
The system will also continue to emphasize the importance of hand washing and hand hygiene to patients and visitors.
Additional steps taken by Texas Health include:
A consumer information hotline (682-236-7601) and hub have been set up on TexasHealth.org that provide information for the general public and patients, along with regular updates about the virus from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The system is having daily planning and operations meetings that include executive leaders, hospital operators, physicians on the system’s medical staffs, and nurses. Hospital administration regularly updates its employees about the developing situation.
Clinicians are being given guidance on proper screening steps for people who might screen as potential COVID-19 patients.
The system continues to work with public health officials to ensure that it has the latest information on the global spread of the disease and any changes to clinical protocols and screening measures.
Staff are being given detailed instructions for the proper use of personal protective equipment. And employees are encouraged to work from home if their jobs allow.