Doctor checking patient's upper chest with stethoscope while supportive family member is standing next to patient
HealthSeptember 10, 2020

Bringing patients back: Five ways to make patients feel safe

It will be quite some time before we understand the full impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. Doctors who run individual clinic practices are feeling the heat from both ends; the health risk while trying to attend to patients in need of non-Covid care and the hit to their business bottom line.

Patients too are affected in a bad way. On one hand, they want to seek medical help for non-Covid care but are worried about exposing themselves to the risk of infection. Even with lock down restriction being lifted, patients are staying away from health clinics due to a perception of increased risk, often at the cost of their health. Delay in seeking treatment can lead to further deterioration of the condition and more health complications.

Family physicians play a significant role as the first line of treatment for the community.

For practitioners slowly reopening medical clinics, there is an important question to answer: how do doctors make patients feel safe enough to return?

It is of utmost importance that the health practitioners have Covid-19 precautions for medical practices in place. These precautionary measures will contribute towards making clinic waiting rooms feel safe and accessible again. Here are five actions doctors can take to create an atmosphere of safety.

1. Ensure healthcare workers wear masks and gloves at all times.

Close contact with the doctors or nurses is certainly one of the largest deterrents for patients who see the need to visit a clinic. There is a prevalent—and justified—fear that the doctor’s other patients might have exposed them to the coronavirus. However, a simple way of eradicating that paranoia and mitigating the chances is by wearing different sets of gloves and masks (or appropriate face-coverings) for each patient. This can reduce direct contact and more importantly keep the clinic sanitary. Healthcare clinic staff should also be encouraged to wash their hands at purpose-built stations as often as possible, following the twenty-second hand-wash procedure outlined by medical professionals.

Moreover, seeing the staff uphold protocols and follow the social distancing guidelines for clinics will also instill a sense of confidence among patients. The effort to ensure the clinic stays as a bubble within itself is likely to be appreciated by patients.

2. Have patients wait for their appointments in their vehicles.

As highlighted by the Indian Medical Association, the creation of distance and buffer zones between clinic workers and patients should be the primary focus of health clinics. Minimizing contact between patients in waiting rooms is another important step. By negating contact between two alien parties, the doctor’s clinic can appear to the patient as a sterilized zone where only the healthcare professionals are in contact. This not only creates an appearance of social distancing, but also has the patient feel more comfortable in a familiar, isolated environment.

3. Rely on virtual contact as often as possible.

Digital tools like tele or video consultations allow you to limit the number of patients who come to the clinic in person. Communicate with your regular patients about the possibility of online consultations while informing them that the clinic is open for visits. This generates trust and sympathy between doctor and patient in the long-run. Both parties must share an understanding that only the more serious or taxing cases can warrant direct contact, otherwise resorting to social distancing guidelines. This also ensures that if the patient does need to visit the clinic in-person, it is with a pre-existing good relationship and a foundation of good faith, as well as a mutual understanding that such a visit is borne out of necessity.

4. Keep Covid-19 patients in separate areas.

As per Ministry of Health and Family Welfare guidelines, health clinics are advised to avoid the intermingling of suspected Covid-19 patients with others in the clinic. Each patient must undergo a basic screening for temperature and symptoms. Those suspected must get tested; direct them to the right authorities to do so. Clinic staff should triage all patients at the entrance and direct them to the respective areas, again mitigating the risk of exposure and spread of the virus.

5. Ensure strong, positive communication between doctor and patient.

Research by consultation firm Klein and Partners has shown that patients are more likely to appreciate positive, direct information from their healthcare providers. Clinical decision support tools like 5MinuteConsult offer easy to use patient handouts and shareable information for more than 2000 diseases. Keeping in touch with patients to ensure they are living a healthy lifestyle while under lockdown will increase your recall value when they need help. Use communication to create an environment of conviction and assuredness through the clinic’s activities.

5-point recap

  1. Ensure healthcare workers wear masks and gloves at all times.
  2. Have patients wait for their appointments in their vehicles.
  3. Rely on virtual contact as often as possible.
  4. Keep Covid-19 patients in separate areas.
  5. Ensure strong, positive communication between doctor and patient.
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