‘It’s safer now’: Local health care professionals discuss lasting changes, encourage return to medical services
Over the last year, many health care professionals used technology to facilitate services due to the pandemic, and some of the resulting changes may be here to stay.
“When it comes to scheduling or results, we want to automate things, providing patient portals and physicians’ portals so that all the communication can happen in a much more efficient way,” said Dr. Anna Wilson, owner and medical director of Insight Imaging.
Wilson said a continued push to streamline the Grass Valley radiology office’s communications through online platforms could benefit the primary care providers they work with, who she said are at times “bombarded” with requests and test results.
For patients, directly accessing results would also more quickly give “either peace of mind or what the next steps are,” said Wilson.
Chapa-De Indian Health CEO Lisa Davies said that, while an expansion in telehealth services has been brought on by the pandemic, these services have been a “lifeline” for many and are likely to remain in some capacity.
“We have seen our behavioral health services increase almost 30% since before the pandemic,” said Davies. “And that’s both the result of need, because behavioral health acuity has been on the rise as a result of this virus, but also, it speaks to the convenience of being able to get services through a phone call or on a video screen.”
She added that, due to limited internet connectivity in parts of the region, these services have typically been offered by phone.
It has yet to be determined, however, what exactly telehealth will look like amid recovery from the pandemic, according to Davies, as government and insurance entities reevaluate the functionalities which have been allowed specifically for the pandemic, and the practice is “critically evaluated from a provider standpoint.”
‘FATIGUE COUPLED WITH THE INVIGORATION OF PURPOSE’
Asked whether the pandemic’s challenges have drawn people into health care work or out of it, Dr. Brian Evans, president and CEO of Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital, said it has likely been “a mixture.”
“I’ve certainly seen many people that I work with on a daily basis demonstrate incredible, inspiring behavior and passion for their community, and really stepping up to provide the care that our community needs in the middle of a pandemic, showing tremendous courage,” said Evans.
At the same time, said Evans, many health care workers, in particular nurses, have been “really stretched by the pandemic,” working overtime and extra shifts, a taxing experience which has brought on burnout for some.
Asked about the emotional impacts of the pandemic on health care workers, Davies said, “It’s been this odd balance of … fatigue coupled with the invigoration of purpose.”
“Especially in community medicine, most people we work with, I call them the ‘do-gooders,’” said Davies. “They want to save the world. So, when something like this hits, it’s all hands on deck, this is why we’re here.”
On the other hand, said Davies, health care workers have faced “constant change” and an unrelenting situation during the pandemic, from initial fears of the virus’ unknowns to the process of “trying to stand up new ways of providing services.”
At this point, said Davies, they are navigating a “messy middle” of pandemic conditions improving, keeping in mind that “we’re still seeing COVID, and it’s still contagious,” and that, while many people in the community have been vaccinated, some have not.
State officials have said that, beginning today, the state will be moving “beyond the Blueprint for a Safer Economy,” meaning the color-coded COVID-19 risk tier system for counties will be lifted, alongside the restrictions that came with it.
According to the state Department of Public Health, businesses and activities will “return to usual operations,” with the exception of “mega events,” characterized by the state as having 5,000 people in attendance indoors or 10,000 outdoors — at which vaccine verification or negative testing will be required indoors, and recommended outdoors. The “mega event” requirements and recommendations will be in place until at least Oct. 1, officials have said.
BRINGING PATIENTS BACK IN
According to Davies, while patient volume is recovering after many people deferred medical appointments for a year or more due to the pandemic, “it’s not business as usual.”
“It’s more acute issues coming through the door, which on the heels of a pandemic, it’s a lot,” said Davies. “And, we see that that’s going to be the case for a while, all of this pent up deferred care and folks being able to come in to get their services.”
As vaccination has progressed in both Chapa-De’s staff and the community, said Davies, its health centers have moved from an approximately even split between in-clinic and telehealth services to around 75% in-clinic and 25% remote.
“I think people in the community should start feeling more comfortable to go to their providers, especially for preventative services,” said Davies. “If they put it off, it’s safer now and it will continue to become safer to go back in and get the care.”
According to Wilson, Insight Imaging saw “a slow trickle” of patients coming back in earlier in the pandemic, whereas more patients have been comfortable returning more recently, following increased COVID-19 vaccinations.
Wilson, who specializes in breast imaging, said, “For those women who have not been back since the pandemic, I’m really hoping they do, because, with breast cancer, if you find it early, that’s the goal.”
According to Wilson, early detection of breast cancer can drastically change its treatment and management, a concern which was on her mind as some patients missed their mammograms, especially earlier in the pandemic.
“It’s such a quick test that makes a huge difference in the long run,” said Wilson.
Victoria Penate is a staff writer for The Union. She can be reached at email@example.com
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“The recommendation for everyone to resume masking indoors and to get tested after an exposure is a prudent measure to slow the spread of the Delta variant,” said Nevada County Health Officer Dr. Scott Kellermann.