Tackling COVID-19 in Healthcare Systems

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This picture depicts what the government is trying to adjust, it shows how flattening the curve will help our health care system.

Jenna Voegeli, Reporter

In these crazy times we have seen a lot of facts floating around never sure what may be true and what isn’t. We also see a lot of praise for our health care workers, but that makes you wonder how has this pandemic changed the lives of our health care workers? To find out the truth about this particular question I interviewed a certified medical assistant that is employed at UW Health in an Urgent care in Madison.  In their particular clinic they have divided their patients: All possible patients with COVID-19 are directed to the Urgent Care and patients that come in for other urgent care issues, such as infections or lesions, are directed to the clinical side of the building. They are able to do this because all regular appointments/physicals/elective surgeries have all been cancelled, leaving room for Urgent Care to take over the whole building. 

With so many visitors to their Urgent Care it is recommended that you call beforehand. They recommend this so the health care providers are able to provide a screening before you come in, because approximately 8 out of 10 people that come in are being tested for COVID-19. Screenings help “try to figure out your risk of being exposed to it, what your symptoms are and try to help best determine, if this patient is a possible COVID-19 testing candidate or does this patient have something else, like a sinus infection.” There are test kits available, but because of the limited number of them most health care services are using them only on people who have most symptoms and have had the opportunity to be exposed (coming in close contact with someone who tested positive.) It also helps keep less necessary cases out of the clinic as a safer option for that person. If it is something that does not require any testing or medication the health providers would prefer you to stay at home.  At this UW Urgent Care, health providers are told of any possible COVID-19 symptoms before they come to take a patient back for testing. This makes sure that they can be dressed in full Personal Protective Equipment (otherwise known as PPE) to try and limit their exposure. Another way this particular clinic monitors it’s workers (who have the chance to be exposed more frequently) is tracking their employees temperature, including two required temperature checks a day and reporting any symptoms to their supervisors.

Another issue may be is there enough healthcare providers to test and work through this pandemic.  The answer seems to be yes. Although the workers in the Urgent Care alone may not seem like enough, many people who work regularly at a different appointment-based clinic are now being trained to deal with the rush of Urgent Care. This makes for many new providers and many new people to train into the loop.

Another seemingly touchy topic during this time is Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). People are wondering: if it is useful for the regular civilian, should we be stockpiling, and are our health care systems running out of basic supplies? Recently the CDC announced that it is recommended for average civilians to wear masks. However, this does not mean you should stockpile or buy the N-95 respirators. N-95 respirator should be left for the people directly exposed in the healthcare system. If everyday people buy an entire supply, that makes it more difficult on the health care system to get what they need.  The medical assistant I talked with explains that America is unlike other countries, which have universal health care. Other countries all have the same supply to all clinics; however in the USA it is known that we have different health care depending on insurances. So the problem is one system may have bought up all the resources right away leaving other systems with next to nothing, that would be the worst case scenario. Even though health care systems like UW Health seem confident in their supply levels, they are still working on rationing just because of the uncertainty that the COVID-19 timeline brings about. I discussed this with the medical assistant and she explained that her job, “had now switched from an open stock room with the supplies available to anyone, to a person bringing instructed supplies out of the stock room to you, to ensure no one is overusing.”

The main reason for this whole quarantine is to make sure not everyone gets sick at once. It is so important to flatten the curve by stopping the spread, because our health care systems don’t have the space or supplies available to help everyone all together. It may seem as they are just trying to stretch it out, and yes, that is what the government is trying to do. If they are successful in flattening the curve, we will have less deaths over a longer period of time. The USA is trying to avoid the drastic measure that Italy has had to take in triaging it’s patients as explained by The Atlantic.  With all this in mind health care providers are urging social distancing and proper hygiene techniques, as this can help limit the spread. They also recommend that if you have any symptoms including cough, fever, or, a new symptom recently discovered, loss of smell: quarantine yourself instantly and call your healthcare providers.