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Healthcare clinics take precautions against COVID-19

Concerns over COVID-19 have local medical clinics taking steps to meet the needs of their patients while limiting exposure to the disease.

Whether using telemedicine with phones or the Internet, or isolating patients who show symptoms for the virus from other patients according to the Centers for Disease Control and the Mississippi State Department of Health guidelines, the underlying goal is to keep patients out of clinics if possible and away from potential infection.

“We’re trying to flatten the curve of the epidemic so the hospitals aren’t overwhelmed,” said Vicksburg internist Dr. Dan Edney with Medical Associates of Vicksburg. “This is the new normal until we get through the epidemic.

“According to the CDC and the orders of the health department, patients should not be coming in for routine checkups face-to-face unless there is a compelling reason the physician visit needs to be done,” said Edney, who serves on the Mississippi State Medical Association COVID Task Force for Outpatient Care.

“Routine checks for blood pressure, cholesterol medication checks, we do not want these patients in the clinic right now,” he said. “We’re taking our schedules every week and we’re converting everyone we possibly can to a telemedicine visit.

“I’m able to look at my patients and talk to them and go over things with them and able to refill their medicine and see if they need any diagnostics done, and if so, set that up in the clinic at a time when there are no other patients here. They can come in, get their blood work and get out and not have a lot of (interaction with other) patients,” he said.

“We’ll reschedule and bring them back in three months and pray it’s over by then. What we don’t want now is an examining room full of patients waiting to see the doctor,” Edney added.

Spokespersons for MEA Medical Clinic and Mission Primary Care said both clinics are still seeing patients for face-to-face visits.

Bill Fulcher, clinic administrator for Mission Primary, said the clinic is following the CDC and state Health Department recommendations.

Whether the doctor uses telemedicine or sees the patient in person depends on the doctor.

“They’ll make that decision at that time (during the call),” Fulcher said.

If a person believes they have the COVID-19 symptoms, he said, they should call the clinic and describe their symptoms.

Like Medical Associates, Mission Primary is a test site for COVID-19. Fulcher said people who call Mission Primary and meet the symptoms for the virus, are asked to come to the clinic parking lot and call when they get there.

“The physician addresses them at that point to determine whether they will be tested,” he said.

He said the patient could be tested in the parking lot or in the clinic, depending on how busy the doctor is or how many people are in the clinic’s waiting room.

Linda Akers, marketing director for MEA, said patients who believe they have COVID-19 symptoms are asked to call one of two numbers — 601-898-7540 or 601-200-5000 — to be directed to a test site operated by St. Dominic Memorial Hospital. MEA is a subsidiary of St. Dominic.

St. Dominic’s has two test sites, she said, and tests are by physician referral. Patients will be referred to a local test site on a case-by-case basis.

MEA is a walk-in clinic, and Akers said if a person with apparent symptoms walks in the clinic they will be seen by a health care provider, who evaluates and determines if the person needs to go to a test site.

“We’re trying to discourage patients from coming in and being exposed to anything,” she said. “So there’s a lot of phone calls, there’s a lot of nurses talking on the phones trying to determine (illness), but there will be times when they will have to see a physician, and it will be for things other than the coronavirus.”

Edney said patients who think they have the COVID-19 symptoms should call Medical Associates before coming to the clinic.

“We don’t want walk-ins,” Edney said. “We want to know who’s coming, when they’re coming.”

He said he had a patient who was coughing and not feeling well call the clinic.

The nurse, he said, went to the patient in protective gear, put a mask on the patient and took him through a back door to an isolation room where a flu swab was performed. The patient tested positive for the flu.

“The patient saw no other patients, went through the back door to the isolation room and then back out through back door,” Edney said. “We were able to take care of him face-to-face, but with all the protective equipment on.

“If a patient called having an increase of shortness of breath and history of heart failure, we would tell the patient when to come, meet them at the front door, put a mask on and take them to an examining room,” he said.

When a patient comes in for testing, Edney said, “The first thing we do is a flu swab. If the flu swab is positive, the protocol stops there and we treat the flu. If it’s negative and there is no other good reason and the patient is higher risk, they get tested (for COVID-19).

“For you to be seen in the clinics now, there needs to be a really good reason why the physician needs to examine you, or to get flu or COVID tested,” he said.

COVID-19, he said, is such a novel virus that medicine has not encountered it in the population before. There is no protection against it and it’s highly infectious.

“The protocols are made to social distance patients, and have them take care of their chronic health problems in their home, without them having to come in and potentially be exposed.”

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