Norman Regional Health System

older male doctor smiling and talking on phone, African American woman smiling talking to a patient during a video chat, male doctor in mask examining a patient

Monday, June 1, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed healthcare in ways few could have ever imagined. While the shift hasn’t been easy, it has given patients more options than ever. Casey Markland, MD, at Primary Care – Moore says that’s a good thing.

“When patients call us we can offer them a virtual visit, a phone call with their provider or an office visit,” Dr. Markland said.

While some people have been hesitant to visit their family doctor in person for fear of catching COVID-19, primary care providers say the enhanced sanitation and social distancing guidelines they’ve put in place should help alleviate those concerns.

“We are prepared to protect patients during clinic visits,” said David Sparlin, APRN at Primary Care – Main St. “Protocols are in place to increase patient safety during face-to-face encounters.”

“Most of our patients who come in don’t touch anything,” Dr. Markland said. “They walk straight through the lobby to a room that’s been disinfected. We practice social distancing in the room. We wear masks and stand as far away as possible. Any physical exam is short.”

Keeping Patients Protected

Clinic staff have modified much of their everyday routine to make sure patients are as protected as possible.

“We’ve changed workflow, how we draw labs, how we move patients around, and how we wear protective equipment. We went to virtual care visits to lower the risk to patients. We help them weigh the risk versus the benefits of coming into the clinic,” Dr. Markland said.

“People have lots of other medical issues that need to be addressed so we guide patients on which things need to be addressed in the clinic and which ones can be handled over the phone.”

Moxlie through the video monitor

Dr. Markland and her team are focused on making sure patients get the treatment they needed at the appropriate place.

“We try to protect the ER and figure out who needs the next level of care,” she said.

Once elective procedures were put on hold, Dr. Markland had the challenge of managing patients with diseases that were deemed not severe enough for surgery.

“People preparing for gallbladder surgery, knee surgery, all kinds of things were delayed, even evaluations of masses and things like that,” Dr. Markland said. “We’ve been helping them manage where they’re at.”

Managing Treatment of Chronic Conditions

Whether patients talk to their provider in person, on the phone or during a video chat, it’s crucial they don’t ignore acute illnesses or management of chronic conditions. It’s a mistake that could lead to poor outcomes.

“Chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes are responsible for about 70% of deaths in the U.S.,” said Sparlin. “Delaying treatment is like denying a chronic illness and hoping it will just go away.  Routine healthcare assessment, testing if indicated, medication adjustment, and the use of the latest technologies can occur if a patient is a partner with their provider. With good information and regular communication, better decisions can be made.”

It’s also important to keep appointments for regular checkups to ensure chronic conditions don’t go undetected, Sparlin said.

“Establish a relationship with a primary care provider. Chronic illness can only be managed when identified. Making timely adjustments when patients first show signs and symptoms of illness can prevent or alter the decline of those conditions.” 

Heart Attack, Stroke, Immunizations Ignored

While many primary care providers have helped patients over the phone, it’s those who don’t call that concern them the most.

“Sadly, I’ve had two people that didn’t call," said Dr. Markland. "One ignored a heart attack for a day, one ignored a stroke for a day. They both survived but they didn’t have as good of outcomes as they could have if they’d gotten treatment earlier,” she said.

One trend that’s also troubling Dr. Markland is the drop in infants coming in for well-child checks and immunizations.

“Those vaccines prevent outbreaks of serious disease that are an even bigger threat to children than COVID-19,” Dr. Markland said. “Measles, whooping cough and meningitis are big concerns. Delaying those immunizations could cause serious problems.”

Spike in Mental Health Issues 

On the flip side, Dr. Markland said her clinic has seen a significant increase in patients with mental health concerns.

“We’ve had a lot of virtual visits about depression and stress. There’s a lot of anxiety,” Dr. Markland said.

If you don’t have a primary care doctor, Norman Regional has 17 primary care clinics throughout south central Oklahoma. Call 405-515-5000 to find a physician who’s right for your family.