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COVID-19 and the Future: An Ambulatory Perspective

By Joe Chow, MD, TeamHealth President of Ambulatory Care and Medical Director of AccessNurse

As we pass the one-year mark since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, TeamHealth Ambulatory Care is reflecting on the past year and how our division has responded. We can all take stock of the critical lessons we have learned that will prepare us for the future.

There have certainly been some silver linings recently, with COVID-19 case rates declining, the uptick in vaccination availability and administration, and the country looking forward to getting back to “normal” again. Through all the unknowns of this virus (how to treat, what test to use, how to protect each other), we’ve adapted and changed processes, yet continued to care for patients in our communities and meet their needs. There is great pride in this in our urgent care centers as well as our industry as a whole.

But looking forward, what is normal? What are the needs?

The “normal” will be a new one. We long for the days when wearing a mask was not required, the days without the stress of having to make a decision on whether being with others is safe or not. We mourn that just hugging a loved one causes pause and consideration. With the vaccines and public health measures as our greatest tools to combat COVID-19, we may well get to the point we are longing for this year.

Could the normal be better?

Mask wearing, hand washing, social distancing, staying home from work if sick, and the spotlight on science with effective vaccines – these measures are now so ingrained in our culture – we are stronger than ever before. So the normal may be this: expect COVID-19 boosters, don’t throw away those masks, be cognizant of your own health status, and stay flexible with your plans as they may change depending on your community’s health.

Are we now better able to respond to spikes of COVID-19 or other infectious diseases, such as flu?

Over the past year, our medical teams have gained valuable knowledge about how to deal with the next crisis that places serious strain on our healthcare system

The needs of our patients will drive our industry to improve. The demand for effective and accessible vaccines is driving increased access at urgent care centers, doctors’ offices, pharmacies and grocery stores. Patient access to protection will continue to improve as the distribution process matures.

There will always be a need for access to high-quality urgent and emergent care. Our healthcare system is improving operationally to keep patients and staff safe when in-person care is needed. However, the pandemic has emphasized the need for safe and convenient care without exposing the patient to other potentially contagious patients in crowded waiting rooms. TeamHealth is driving innovation to provide this care to patients from the convenience of their homes and workplaces. Our telemedicine service will provide a safe, satisfying complement to the high-quality, comprehensive care we already offer through our urgent care centers and emergency departments.

Patients need trusted healthcare partners to cut through opinions and confusion. Through world-class education and updates that TeamHealth continues to provide, our clinicians are the best equipped to meet these needs.