Pontiac family doctors respond to COVID-19

CALEB NICKERSON
PONTIAC March 25, 2019
Pontiac’s family doctors are working to reduce their patients’ potential exposure to COVID-19 by implementing a slew of new protocols.
According to the Dr. Ruth Vander Stelt, President of the Pontiac Family Medicine Group, which encompasses 22 doctors across the Pontiac, local physicians are looking at things such as telephone appointments, house calls and other measures in an attempt to emphasize the social distancing regulations set out by the government. The group serves roughly 80 per cent of the region’s population, at five public and five private sites.
“Essentially, what we’re going to be doing is offering a lot more telephone appointments, so that’s the number one thing,” she said. “The whole population can be advised that your doctor’s office is going to judge whether you can have a telephone appointment, if that is suitable for your health condition, and then they would offer that instead of a regular appointment.”
Vander Stelt added that video conferencing was also something they were looking into for the future. In instances where her patients have to be seen in person, she is advising that they avoid the waiting room and either come directly into one of her two offices or wait in their vehicles until they’re called in.
“People over 70 have been encouraged to stay home and so what we’re going to be doing increasingly, is organizing home care, so the patients don’t have to go out and the doctors will go to them,” she said. “We can’t guarantee everyone’s going to get seen, it takes a lot more time, but we’re going to be taking advantage of that.”
Vander Stelt also encouraged those with non-urgent appointments to consider postponing or cancelling. She estimated that about 30 per cent of her appointments could be handled over the phone.
She said that the family medicine group also has several nurses and social workers on staff, who will also be addressing the mental and emotional toll of the pandemic.
“They’re going to be developing over the coming days and weeks, a special emphasis on more the mental impacts , so anxiety and things like that about the COVID, so we’re going to work on how to go through that,” she said.
“It’s hard to do that on the phone,” she continued. “You don’t get the visual, you don’t get the body language, there’s not that human kind of contact, so we’re going to be sensitive to what we think is best and also what the patient wants and their level of anxiety. It’s better to do it over the phone than not do it at all. We’re hoping we can get a platform where we can do as well.”
Vander Stelt stressed that the goal of these protocols is to keep health care staff healthy and to steer people who don’t need immediate attention away from health care facilities. She also stressed personal hygiene measures, like hand washing, coughing into the elbow and keeping a distance from other people in public.
“Our goal … for our family medicine group is to keep people out of the [emergency room],” she said. “That’s the big, big thing. Get the doctors to see the patients … either see them in the office, do phone calls, do home visits when we can, basically we’ve got to go see people where they are and accommodate.”
Vander Stelt added that if a severe case of COVID-19 emerged in the Pontiac, the patient would likely be transferred elsewhere.
“We really hope that all this hand washing is going to work, but the Pontiac Hospital is limited, obviously it’s a community hospital, it has very limited capacity to take care of these people,” she said. “We also don’t have expertise, so definitely we’re going to be transferring people out.
The key issue is what’s called a negative pressure room. We only have one in the Shawville Hospital, and that’s normal, that’s standard for the kind of hospital we have. So we only have one, which would mean that we could only keep one patient.”
“As things move forward, they’re going to tell us exactly what to do, but defiantly it’s good to know we have one negative pressure room,” she continued. “If there’s a lot of positive cases then they will start opening up special facilities with only COVID positive people in there. That’s a little different.”

 

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