Volume 1  Number 1  February 2022

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the online magazine of 
The National Library of Patient Rights & Advocacy
Welcome to The Inaugural Issue

what you will find inside ...

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by Hugo Amador

Where Are the Greatest Challenges to the Healthcare Equity Issue?
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The Monthly Report on the Current Stories in Healthcare

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Welcome to Today's Patient

Welcome to our inaugural issue of the new online magazine of The Power of the Patient Project: The National Library of Patient Rights and Advocacy. We have put together an editorial team of outstanding healthcare journalists who will bring you stories that you can use to become a more informed patient.  We welcome your comments and suggestions. We hope that you will enjoy the content of the magazine and come back every month to see what is new and relevant to today's patient.

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The New Normal: Visiting Your Doctor's Office

by Bob Kieserman

It has been nearly two years since the pandemic began. As patients, we have seen how visits to our doctors have changed dramatically. When the pandemic first began in March of 2020, most of us stayed in our homes for weeks, maybe even months, until the warmer weather came and more people around us were conscious about wearing masks and social distancing. We were sheltering in place because that is what we were told to you until more was known about the virus. However, as we watched this unprecedented public health experience unfold, some of us needed to be seen by a doctor. Most doctors had temporarily closed their offices, and so, something that had been talked about for years in medicine suddenly was unleashed and became the norm. It was called telemedicine. Telemedicine allowed doctors and other healthcare providers to remain in their homes and have safe conversations with their patients. No one really knew if was going to work, but since there was really no other alternative, many doctors switched to this delivery system in order to care for their patients. And while obviously it was impossible for patients to be physically examined, in some cases, doctors were actually able to have the patient show them a visible problem using their tablet or phone and describe their symptoms, and the doctors were able to make a clinical decision. But there were also medical problems that needed to be examined live, so some providers brought patients in to their offices one person at a time, everyone wearing masks, using very strict protocols, and the visits were as brief as possible. At the same time, some patients experiencing dangerous symptoms like chest pain, were told to go to the emergency room, even though most emergency rooms were overfilled with patients who were experiencing chronic COVID symptoms. It was a difficult time and a confusing time in healthcare. We recognized our healthcare providers as heroes, and rightly so.

 

Waiting for the Vaccines

As we went through 2020 and woke up each morning wondering what the each day would bring, there was much discussion by the CDC and by the White House about vaccines being developed, and as a nation, we all remained hopeful. Finally, the pharmaceutical companies and the Food and Drug Administration began to talk seriously and optimistically about the success of the drug companies in developing the vaccines, and as we completed 2020, states were beginning to put together a network of mega-centers and pharmacies that would administer the two initial doses to the American public. It was recognized as one of the most progressive and most successful public health initiatives in the history of the country. As we began 2021, the dream became a reality, and we scrambled for appointments to receive our shots. With folks feeling a bit more protected, patients began to schedule screenings that were unfortunately postponed like colonoscopies, mammograms, PAP smears, routine blood tests, PSA's and the digital exam, and other cancer and health screenings that save lives. Primary care physicians and specialists began to again schedule office visits, but still with very strict protocols and very limited scheduling.

 

The Summer of 2021

As we went through the summer of 2021, folks felt more confident, but the issue of the vaccinated and the non-vaccinated became a great divisive issue. Throughout last summer, entertainment venues and theme parks struggled with controlling crowds and protecting attendees, beaches and resorts throughout the country enforced rules and restrictions, and the airlines began to fly with full planes, but with many rules. During the Summer of 2021, most patients felt comfortable in visiting their doctors and having necessary procedures that they had put off. We got through the summer with a relatively low incidence of hospitalizations, but once the fall came and we came closer to the traditional party season of Halloween and the holidays including New Year’s Eve, again the country was experiencing a dramatic rise in cases, many of whom needed to be hospitalized.

 

The Winter of 2022

So, here we are right now. Providers are still scheduling live visits, but also are offering tele-visits for those who request them. Providers are still scheduling elective procedures as well as emergency procedures. Urgent care centers are busy, and folks are being asked not to come to an emergency room unless they feel they are in a dangerous health situation, because emergency rooms are again overwhelmed with the normal serious cases that winter brings as well as patients who need to be hospitalized for COVID. If you elect to visit your doctor’s office, everyone is wearing a mask – the providers, the staff, the patients, and those accompanying patients. In many offices, patients must again only come alone, unless pre-authorized by the medical office to bring someone along with you All patients are being screened with a list of questions over the phone or online before the visit regarding any COVID symptoms, and all patients visiting an office are greeted by someone who takes your temperature. Waiting rooms are socially distanced, and appointments are being scattered so there are not many people waiting at any given time. At the same time, pharmacies have similar protocols, and many have instituted free mail overnight delivery of medications so customers do not need to come to the store.

 

So What’s Next?

Who knows what will happen in the next few weeks and months? Will those of us who have received our two shots plus a booster be getting another booster? Will doctors and other healthcare providers be able to stay open without jeopardizing the health of their staffs and their patients? Are we at the end of the crisis as reports from the CDC are forecasting with the hope that by the summer, COVID will be able to treated much like the flu with medications, handwashing, and staying home from work or school for a few days? Again, we go one day at a time, taking precautions and hoping that others will be compliant with what the public health officials are recommending. This indeed is the new normal. And if we need to stay inside again and shelter in place for a few weeks this winter, I am happy that there was a time when folks had the chance to get their screenings that they needed to postpone when the pandemic began. For those who did not take advantage of the opportunity, it would be my hope that the opportunity to be screened will continue over the winter and throughout the year. Screenings are important. What I do know for sure, is what we experience when we visit the office of a doctor or a therapist has changed forever. Telemedicine will remain an option when scheduling an appointment, especially if it is a follow-up appointment. Mental health providers, in particular, such as psychiatrists, psychologists, and LCSW’s will continue to use telemedicine as a viable way to conduct sessions. Medical offices will also now have stricter protocols for cleaning the office space and keeping everything sterile. And overcrowded waiting rooms will be a thing of the past, which will benefit the patient. We may need to wait longer to get an appointment, but once we arrive for our appointment, we will probably not need to wait too long in the waiting room anymore. Finally, I believe that the new normal will give patients more respect for their time and honor patient rights more than ever before. And, as far as I am concerned, that is one of the best changes that the new normal could bring.

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Bob Kieserman is the Executive Director of The Power of the Patient Project: The National Library of Patient Rights and Advocacy, and publisher of Today's Patient. Now retired, for over 35 years, he was a professor of healthcare administration and medical ethics and a healthcare consultant. He is the author of over 300 articles and four books on managing the private healthcare practice, the patient/provider relationship, and the rights of patients. Bob is both a medical librarian and a medical sociologist and resides near Philadelphia. 

 copyright 2022 by The Power of the Patient Project