COVID-19 Emergency Response Plan

COVID-19 is threatening to overwhelm practices and hospitals all over the world. Developing an emergency response plan to the virus can make a critical difference. Taking proactive steps can minimize exposure for patients and staff. Our clinic is bracing itself for the multifaceted demands of providing care for those burdened by the COVID-19 virus as well as every day patient needs.

Practice Infrastructure

When working on your COVID-19 response plan, assessing your practice’s infrastructure is the first step. If your practice has curbside parking available, you can leverage that. Knowing about your clinical space will aid in promoting social distancing. If your practice is set up for telehealth, that is something you can leverage to provide non-critical services while limiting exposure.

Our clinic’s infrastructure includes:

  • Single site clinic: Clinic includes a main reception area, 3 back doors, and curbside parking.
  • eMDs Solution Series 9.1: Our practice focuses on patients activating portal messages. We encourage them to add their mobile number in the demographic field for optimal access. This includes managing children to the appropriate guardian.
  • Updox Patient Communication Applications: All our clinic departments use texting (both HIPPA-compliant and simple SMS). They also use blast messaging. We use secured live video chat for telehealth visits and more.

Keeping COVID-19 social distancing practices in mind, our clinic is operating by:

  • Designating 2 of our 23 exam rooms as “at-risk” space. We manage all identified risk patients in those rooms.
  • Instructing our patients and staff on a “no touch” policy to limit exposure.
  • Providing separate equipment and PPE supplies in the designated “at-risk” space.
  • Frequently cleaning clinical spaces, both after use and at random for at-risk and low risk space.

Restricting Clinic Access to Limit COVID-19 Exposure

Restricting access helps enforce social distancing rules to decrease the risk of COVID-19. Some steps to limiting access can include triaging over the phone. Your clinic can alert patients in their car via SMS messaging when it is time to be escorted to a private space. High-risk patients should use an alternative entry if that is available to your clinic. High-risk patients should also be escorted by staff to the dedicated treatment areas. If your space allows for it, you can offer waiting room space to low risk patients if they sit 3 seats apart.

Staffing Needs during COVID-19 Outbreak

The needs of your clinic staff are just as important to consider as your patients when developing your emergency response plan. It is important to take steps to limit their exposure to the COVID-19 virus. Aside from adhering to social distancing rules, our clinic has taken the following steps for our staff:

  • At-risk staff are being redirected to home/remote access. Or redirected work away from patient contact and flow
  • Monitoring the temperature of all staff twice a day, and keeping a log
  • Implementing an “illness reveal” policy that staff must agree to and sign
  • COVID-19 related sick days (up to 14 days) will be paid and NOT deducted from PTO

Messaging to Patients

Communication between staff and your patients is the key to success during pandemics. This includes providing updates on how your clinic is operating (such as escort policy or telehealth options). This also includes sharing accurate information in a time of confusion. COVID-19 has generated a lot of misinformation. Many people are looking to their healthcare providers for accurate updates. Our clinic has opened the lines of communication by:

  • Updating the clinic website every few days. It is an essential information source for patients.
  • Using mass messaging sparingly to share critical information to all patients.
  • Daily updates/staff huddle to keep up with ever-changing information and workflow.
  • Committing staff to manage social media profile to share clinic-specific information.

Having an emergency response plan for COVID-19 is important to the health and safety of your patients and staff. Knowing the available options for your clinic will help you plan. You can use your infrastructure to limit exposure and still care for your patients. Response plans will change as new information about the virus becomes available, but having a solid base to work from will make all the difference in your clinic.

Dr. Eric Weidmann graduated from the University of Texas at Austin, College of Engineering and then earned his Doctor of Medicine from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas in 1985. He joined SAMC in 1989 and is a Diplomate of the American Board of Family Practice.  Dr. Weidmann serves as the Chief Medical Officer at eMDs.