Over the past two years it has been a very challenging time for many practices as you juggled COVID-19 and business as usual (BAU). In some states and territories such as Western Australia, you are only experiencing the impact of COVID-19 for the first time.
Regardless of where you are and your experiences, there are always lessons to be learnt and opportunities for improvement.
With this in mind, here is some practical advice and insights from your colleagues about how they’ve managed COVID-19 and BAU.
Personal Protective Equipment: The best way to protect patients and yourself is to always wear a N95 face mask (if possible) or a surgical mask, as well as eye protection. Ensuring good ventilation is important as well.
Clinical staff working outdoors should be in PPE and be rotated every few hours, or consider only offering a service in the morning, especially in hot locations. Reception staff should wear a surgical mask and sit behind a Perspex screen.
Tailor staff procedures to your needs: Ensure that any staff member displaying symptoms remains at home and has a rapid antigen test. Consider staff carrying out a rapid antigen test when they return to work and/or regularly. Suggest staff stagger their lunch breaks or eat lunch outdoors.
Communicate regularly with patients: Over the past two years, General Practice has had to adapt to rapid changes. Problems with communication and mixed messages from the authorities have left many confused. To help clear up any confusion, practices may consider including a voice message on all incoming calls briefly outlining key practice policies; sending out a fortnightly update to patients via text message or email on what’s happening at your practice; changes that are being implemented; and how you’re protecting patients and staff. You could also add these updates to your website. It should be noted that practices that have proactively communicated with their patient cohort have reported a significant reduction in the number of unnecessary phone calls.
Screen patients: Screen and triage all patients before entering your practice. Consider requesting patients call reception on arrival. Provide a surgical mask to patients who are only wearing a cloth mask. Have arrangements in place for patients who might be displaying symptoms such as seeing them outside with the clinician wearing full PPE; conducting a telehealth appointment; or providing a rapid antigen test. It is important that we return to face to face consultations as there is evidence that particularly phone-based telehealth is not a replacement for a good GP consultation. GP researcher Professor Jon Emery in Melbourne estimates that some of the late cancer diagnoses being seen are due to the inadequacies of telehealth.
Practice intelligence platforms such as Cubiko can help with insights into your upcoming appointments, and patient eligibility for telehealth services.
Implement special arrangements for vulnerable patients: Ensure vulnerable patients are fully vaccinated and triage them before entering the practice. If possible, create a discreet area inside the practice for these patients that is away from others.
Social distancing and masks: Arrange seating in the reception area to comply with public health orders.
If you’re utilising a practice intelligence platform such as Cubiko, you can download lists of your upcoming appointments to communicate any information or changes that are important.
Focus on what you can do: Don’t try and be ‘all things to all people’. Be pragmatic and draw boundaries. Consider organising vaccination clinics/sessions on set days and times throughout the week (to enable BAU to proceed and continue in parallel). Decide on what you can do with your capacity and available resources, and what services can be provided in the local community.
Connect and collaborate with other GPs in your local area: You aren’t alone and by working together, you can find tangible solutions.
Learn what resources are available to you: Contact your local Primary Health Network, Health Pathways team and colleagues in your local area.