How the pandemic changed the routine at a doctor’s office

BOSTON — That familiar routine of walking into your doctor’s office, getting checked-in, waiting, and being brought to the examination room is a thing of the past.

For months, outpatient primary care offices and specialists have been changing the ways they do things to limit risk of coronavirus infection for themselves and patients, efforts that continue to evolve. When the pandemic began, many appointments were postponed except in the case of acutely ill patients, that is starting to change.

“We’ve been doing this for months now (and) we’re at the point, however of expanding those visits to see even more patients,” said Nancy Cibotti, MD, Senior Medical Director of Care Development, Innovations and Operations at Beth Israel Lahey Health Primary Care.

Cibotti’s staff in Wellesley gave us a virtual tour of their offices in what has become the new routine visit model which starts with a phone call between patient and the office.

They will ask if you have a cough, or sore throat, or fever, according to Cibotti.

“We want to know those things so we can treat you appropriately, and so we an notify our staff about those symptoms," said Cibotti.

The waiting room will be empty, patients will be escorted with a mask into their examination room.

“In the exam room, you will see a standard exam room we do have a HEPA filter in that exam room,” Cibotti said.

Within the past month, her office had seen about five to eight patients per day. That will change, but so will the length of the visit which will run about thirty minutes. Cibotti cautioned that patients will be coming in greater numbers but not like they once were.

So why should a patient told to stay away for so long visit their doctors, now?

“Our waiting rooms are empty, our workflows are designed in such a way that we are efficient, we are all wearing appropriate PPE to protect you, to protect ourselves,” Cibotti said.

“I think you can feel confident that a lot of thought has been put into how we are seeing patients in-person and we want to see you, it’s important that we do see you and that’s why we have been so thoughtful about this.”

Cibotti also said this new routine was created to be sustainable and anticipates it being used for the “long haul,” she stated.

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