Health News
Health News
April 10, 2020
Virtual Visits & More: Adapting to COVID-19

The novel coronavirus and the illness it causes, COVID-19, have reshaped our lives in ways that would have seemed unthinkable several weeks ago.  We’re all learning to adapt to a new way of living – at least for the time being – as we work together to defeat this virus.  To slow the spread of the virus and protect people’s health, we are all making dramatic changes to the way we live:

  • Schools are closed, with parents trying to guide their children’s learning at home.

  • With the exception of essential industries and businesses, people are working from home. Sadly, many people have also been laid off. 

  • Texans and most other Americans have been ordered to remain in their homes, unless they are engaging in essential business, such as going to a grocery store or pharmacy.

All of these measures are intended to achieve “social distancing” – separating ourselves from others in order to slow the spread of the virus.  It’s necessary to take these extreme measures because:

  • The novel coronavirus is very contagious, more so than the annual flu. Without social distancing, a typical person who has the virus will spread it to 2.5 more people.

  • It can be spread from someone who is asymptomatic. In other words, they are contagious, yet have no idea they are sick. 

  • It is dangerous: of those who do get sick from coronavirus, about 1 in 5 need to be hospitalized. About 2% will die as a result of COVID-19 complications. 

  • In order to prevent hospitals from being swamped with patients with COVID-19, we have to slow the spread of the virus so that there is not an overwhelming number of people who need to be hospitalized at the same time. This is the goal when people talk about “flattening the curve.” 

COVID-19 is changing how we do business in the healthcare industry, also.  At Privia Medical Group North Texas (PMGNTX), we’re adopting new strategies and protocols to protect our patients and our staff.  Our top goal is to keep our patients and our healthcare providers healthy. 

Virtual Visits for Privia Patients

Due to COVID-19, our healthcare providers are expanding our telemedicine capabilities and offering patients the opportunity for a virtual visit whenever practical.  In fact, we are strongly encouraging our patients to take advantage of virtual visits as a way of protecting their own health and safety.  A virtual visit provides several important advantages for the patient:

  • It keeps you physically out of a physician’s office or an urgent care center at a time when possible COVID-19 patients may be present, reducing your potential exposure not only to the virus that causes COVID-19, but to other germs.

  • It can be done from the comfort and convenience of your own home.

  • By describing your symptoms to your provider, you can often receive the same diagnosis and prescription, if needed, as you would if you were physically present in your provider’s office.

“Telemedicine is not a new concept,” explains Dr. James Parker, an internal medicine physician who has helped lead PMGNTX’s virtual visit efforts.  “We have doctors who have practiced telemedicine for years, and it is an effective way to evaluate a patient and prescribe treatment. The technology and the know-how have been in place for some time now.  The holdup has been more on the regulatory and insurance side of the healthcare industry, but some of those barriers have been eased in Texas and by the U.S. government during the current COVID-19 pandemic.” 

In order to have a virtual visit with your provider, all you will need to have is a computer, phone or tablet that is capable of live video and audio.  Here’s how it works for PMGNTX patients:

  • You’ll contact your physician’s office as you normally would to request an appointment.

  • When your provider’s office confirms your appointment, they will let you know that they will call you to “check in” for your appointment a few minutes before it is scheduled to start. 

  • The day of your appointment, a staff member from your provider’s office will call you up to 15 minutes before your appointment time.

  • You will be checked in as you normally would.

  • We’ll then transfer you to the nurse or medical assistant who will begin your appointment.  They’ll ask about the reason for your visit and record any symptoms you are experiencing.  If you have a blood pressure cuff at home, you’ll be asked to take your blood pressure and provide the reading for the nurse to record. If you don’t have a blood pressure cuff, don’t worry about it.  You may be asked to take your temperature with a home thermometer and asked for your current weight.   You will be asked about any medications you are taking and of any allergies you are aware of.  The medical assistant or nurse will record all this information in your medical record.

  • When this is done, the medical assistant or nurse will inform the provider – your physician, physician assistant or nurse practitioner – that you are ready for them to see you.  Your provider will then contact you utilizing a video chat platform that you can access with your computer, tablet or smartphone. 

  • Your provider will visit with you over video chat as you would if you were in his or her office. You’ll describe your symptoms, answer questions and ask any of your own.  Your provider will make a diagnosis and prescribe any medication, if appropriate.  And that’s it!

“Virtual visits are not practical in every circumstance, such as when a physical examination is required,” explains Dr. Parker.  “However, for many patients, a virtual visit fully meets their needs and enables them to stay out of the provider’s office where other sick and contagious people may be gathered.  Virtual visits allow us to continue providing the healthcare services our patients need as we adapt to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.”  

Staying at Home

Of course, COVID-19 is changing a lot of things about how we live our lives, not just how we talk with our doctors.  These changes can be hard on people and can take a toll on our mental health and drive up stress levels.  Here’s a few tips on how to cope with these challenges:

Children at home

One of the biggest challenges facing parents is that schools have been closed since mid-March and will not reopen until May, at the very earliest.  It remains quite possible that schools will not reopen at all this school year. 

For parents in essential industries that require them to work outside the home, such as health care, government, the retail grocery business, etc., finding childcare can be a challenge in and of itself.  For parents who do find themselves working at home for the time being, they’re providing the childcare – and that can be a challenge, as well.

Texas schools have taken steps to provide online learning resources for their students, which help to keep children busy and keep their studies on track as much as possible.  But there’s a reason elementary, middle and high school students don’t take self-paced courses – they need structure, discipline and a schedule.  That’s where parents come in. 

“It’s important that children wake up at the same time every day, bathe, get dressed and eat breakfast as they normally would and be ready to start their day as if they were still physically going to school,” explains Dr. Emily Copeland, a pediatrician.  “Schedules and structure are important for all of us, especially for young people. Having a schedule will help keep them on track, provide needed structure and also help parents cope with the new challenges we are having to juggle.”

Help your child keep up with his or her assignments from school and let the school know if you are running into problems.  Schedule regular mealtimes and breaks to go outdoors to play.

Try to limit the amount of news your child sees and hears.  Repetitive information about mounting death tolls related to the pandemic can take an emotional toll on your child – and you – so try not to have the TV on all the time. It can also scare your child, and it’s important to be ready to talk to him or her about why your family is going to stay safe by taking the proper precautions.  Take the opportunity to emphasize the importance of washing hands thoroughly and not touching one’s face.

Eating at Home

With restaurants closed or limited to pickup and delivery only, many of us are preparing meals at home much more than normal.  This has been made even more challenging by shortages on some items at grocery stores.  Here are a few tips:

  • Try to plan ahead as much as you can and buy enough groceries for several days’ worth of meals.

  • Stock up on frozen fruits and vegetables in addition to whatever fresh produce you get. Avoid canned fruits and vegetables, as they are usually high in sugar and sodium. 

  • Experiment with new recipes and dishes. There are plenty of free, online resources to turn to for new, tasty and healthy meals to prepare. 

  • Recruit your children who are bored and stuck at home to help you prepare meals.

  • Try preparing a meatless dinner once or twice a week – beans, legumes or tofu can be the protein source in a good meatless meal.

  • While it’s important to give your family (and yourself) a treat or reward periodically, don’t let the current situation become an excuse to let everyone load up on junk food every day. Now, more than ever, it’s important to stay fit and healthy!

Exercise at Home 

Adults and children must continue to get enough exercise and it’s even more necessary that we be intentional about it.  Adults typically walk several thousand steps a day simply through routine behavior: walking from the car to the office, around the office, leaving for lunch, walking back to the car, running errands after work, etc.  For people now working at home, they’re not taking those usual steps each day.  For those who work out at a gym – well, those are closed now also. 

Children are not getting physical exercise at school through sports, physical education classes or recess.  To adhere to proper social distancing, they also can’t go play with their friends. 

Despite these obstacles, it’s vital the entire family keeps up with exercise: it is necessary for our heart health, burns calories and also helps us clear our minds.  There are a few ways to do this:

  • Go for a walk or a run. Even though people are supposed to stay at home, both state and local directives encourage people to get outside for exercise and fresh air, provided they maintain appropriate social distancing of at least six feet from others. 

  • Exercise in your house. You don’t have to have gym equipment to get in some productive physical exercise: you can do sit-ups, push-ups, jumping jacks and more with no equipment.  You can also find plenty of free home exercise videos online to give you some new ideas. 

  • Make it a family activity: whether you are walking, riding bikes or doing yard work, getting the whole family involved ensures everyone is benefiting from some physical activity. 

Managing Stress

Trying to juggle working from home, keeping the kids on track with schoolwork and making sure you have enough food and basic items on hand adds up to a full plate. Being at home all day, every day can add to the stress even more.  Plus, you’re worried about COVID-19 and trying to do all you can to keep you and your family safe.  It’s a lot to deal with. 

“It’s important you try and make time for yourself during this stressful time,” advises Dr. Triwanna Fisher-Wikoff, a primary care physician.  “That’s harder to do when you’re rarely leaving your house but try to read a book or go for a walk each day just to get your mind off of your daily obligations and to-do list.  What’s important is that you have an outlet for your stress that is healthy and works for you.”

Sometimes when people feel increasingly overwhelmed, they end up drinking more alcohol than they normally do.  If you drink, be mindful of how much you are consuming and take care that it is not more than normal.   Doctors advise that men should have no more than two drinks per day and women should limit themselves to one drink per day. 

And if you feel depressed, anxious, angry or are otherwise not feeling yourself, seek help – there is no shame in having feelings like this, especially during such a difficult time.  Contact your primary care provider to schedule a virtual visit to talk about what you’re going through.  You can also contact these free hotlines that are answered 24/7:

  • Tarrant County MHMR ICARE Call Center (call or text): 800-866-2465

  • Texas HHSC COVID-19 Mental Health Support Line: 833-986-1919

Take Care of Yourself and Your Neighbors

We are all in this together and we all have to help each other get through it.  Take care of yourself and your family and keep them safe and healthy. Call your elderly neighbors and check in on them.  If you know someone who lives alone, give them a ring. 

Finally, remember to stay home unless you just have to go out.  The fewer people who are out moving around and interacting with others, the sooner we’ll be able to defeat this virus – and that day can’t come soon enough. 

This article contains information sourced from:

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The American Academy of Pediatrics