Contributed by: Dr. Pete Smith, associate professor and associate vice chair for clinical affairs, Department of Family Medicine, University of Colorado School of Medicine; assistant dean for clinical affairs and assistant medical director at University of Colorado School of Medicine and Dr. Colleen Conry, president of medical staff and senior vice-chair for quality and clinical affairs, University of Colorado Hospital
We have shifted over the last couple of weeks from rapidly adapting to the COVID-19 pandemic to thinking about what the new normal will be. As humans, we are just as worried about the next phase as we were about the emerging threat of COVID-19.
But what if? What if we seized this opportunity to redesign how we provide care to our patients? What if we re-invent our practices? What if we make our practices places that support our providers, our staff and our patients? What if we jettison things that were getting in our way of providing great care? Can we emerge and evolve to an even better place?
There are lots of unknowns as we move forward. Will our patients feel safe coming back to our practices? Do we have enough PPE to provide care in person? Will there be another surge of COVID-19 cases requiring a shutdown of in-person ambulatory care and elective surgeries? How do we maintain social distancing for our patients, visitors, staff and providers? What about the finances of our clinics, hospital and system?
And yet, we do know a lot of things. Our providers care deeply about their patients and have the capacity to change rapidly. We know how to provide world-class care and have the right tools to do so. We have systems in place that support telephones and an electronic health record and virtual visits. We have patients who need us and will figure out how to interact with us either in person, on the phone or through telehealth.
We are ready for our next challenge to reopen or expand our in-person care. We should not want to return to the “old normal” – we complained about it all of the time. Let us come together and create a new way of being and of caring for our patients as a team. We have a unique window of time to challenge old assumptions and do it differently and better.
So what needs to happen next?
As we look to the future, we are learning how to best utilize all of the tools in our toolbox, including in-person as well as virtual visits. Strategies for meeting our patients’ health care needs while assuring safe experiences might include increasing in-person visits by extending hours of operation, or by enmeshing virtual visits with in-person care in the office. Such strategies can not only help our patients but also meet the unique requirements of complicated academic and family schedules. Ambulatory leadership will be monitoring overall volumes in the context of PPE “burn” rates and inpatient activity as we move forward. Information, guidelines, and tool boxes are available on The Source to help everyone resume clinical care. These include everything from how to bill for telehealth to team scheduling approaches to which disinfecting wipes to clean your clinical area. Reach out to your manager and practice director for specific instructions.
Most importantly, bring your best change attitude to the process of continuously emerging and evolving. Engage with your teams, smile, be patient. It is not going to be easy, but you got this.