Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 12/20/21
The news this week has been dominated by surges in COVID-19 cases across the country. Epidemiologists are predicting a January peak and hospitals in many parts of the country are becoming overwhelmed. Staff members at those hospitals, as well as at urgent cares, community health centers, ambulatory offices, etc. are beyond overwhelmed, as they have been fighting this pandemic for nearly two years.
Most of the colleagues who I talk to regularly are beyond stressed as their organizations try to figure out how they’re going to staff another surge. The nursing shortage continues, with some of that work being shifted to physicians, which is increasing their levels of burnout. The thing that bothers them the most is not the hours or the work, but the feeling that they community no longer supports them but instead takes them for granted, or worse, sees them as expendable.
There’s a tremendous push for people to “live their lives,” but the reality is that we would all be better served by dialing it down a notch and sticking close to home for a while. None of us want to be constrained. We’re all tired of it, but it’s a necessity for many families right now as they struggle to protect vulnerable individuals in their households.
Seeing JP Morgan Chase cancel its healthcare conference was bittersweet. Everyone is so desperate for “the old normal,” but cramming people in hotels and restaurants isn’t the right answer. There’s a shortage of home testing kits across the country at the moment and people in some cities are facing long waits for clinic-based testing, so it doesn’t seem right to burden those systems with pre-travel testing. The same goes for people planning to travel out of the country for the holidays, which can generate multiple tests per traveler on their return, depending on workplace and school policies. I’m glad people have the money to travel to the Caribbean, but I feel for the healthcare workers who will grimly trudge through the lines of tanned, happy travelers seeking testing as they wonder when they will be able to take a break. One of my urgent care clients is routinely testing more than 100 patients per day at a single location, which is an unsustainable pace.
Mr. H noted that HIMSS is reviewing its Right of Entry Protocols for HIMSS22 to see how they’ll play in Florida, which has blocked vaccine mandates for workers and won’t allow businesses to require proof of vaccination. I have to say I hadn’t thought of that before registering for the conference, but now it’s giving me pause. We’ll have to see what the case rates look like as the conference is closer. We know that vaccination doesn’t necessarily prevent transmission, but data is good as far as there being less viral shedding and a shorter duration of symptoms. As we get more data about the Omicron variant, that may change, but right now I’m definitely more comfortable being around people who are fully vaccinated as well as masked versus the unmasked people at the supermarket who are talking on the phone as they shop, aerosolizing as they go. Influenza A is starting to rip through our community as well, so if the COVID-19 doesn’t get you, there’s a chance the flu will.
From a healthcare IT standpoint, I’m starting to see hospitals and health systems put projects on hold again as they cite the need to be all hands on deck for patient care issues. Organizations that haven’t already been tuning up their telehealth strategies have probably missed the window of opportunity while utilization was relatively low. Those who have robust telehealth programs are seeing greater demand, and most of the physicians I’ve spoken with are considering retooling their schedules to create dedicated blocks for telehealth visits so that they can minimize disruption to their days. With hospitals canceling elective cases again, patients are left in the lurch, and I feel bad for those who have been waiting for procedures that are again being pushed back.
As we approach the third year of the pandemic, I’m also starting to see physicians look for part-time opportunities due to childcare issues, especially in dual-physician households. As higher wage earners, these couples have historically had greater ability to afford full-time household caregivers such as nannies, but the long hours and unpredictably lengthened days have caused some caregivers to leave their physician employers. There is also some degree of mismatch between COVID-sensitive physician families and caregivers who might not want to be vaccinated or mask at work, just like there is in any other part of the workforce. Parents of young children who were hopeful for a vaccine to be available soon for their children are crushed by the recent Pfizer announcement that they’d be amending the clinical trial for children 6 months to under 5 years of age. This could delay the vaccine by an additional six months as boosters are studied. For those families, it will be a long winter, indeed.
There are so many terrible things that have come with the COVID-19 pandemic that when you come across something good that has come from it, you just have to celebrate it. Partway through the pandemic, I was introduced to what was then called The Covid Cello Project. It started as a group of 17 professional cellists who couldn’t work due to the initial lockdowns and decided to do a virtual collaboration. Since then, it’s grown to over 500 cellists who submit individual recordings that are then compiled and mixed into a group performance. It was rebranded some time ago as The Global Cello Project to reflect its worldwide reach as well as the easing of the pandemic, but now many of us are staying close to home again, so it’s hard not to refer to it by its original name.
The founder challenged us to put our most recent piece together in only nine days (usually we have several weeks) and I spent the first three of those days in the woods, so I’ve really had to work to get my part ready. Tonight was the recording deadline, and with the support of my in-house production crew, I was able to nail it in one take. Now the team gets to work editing all the videos and mixing all the recordings and we all get to be surprised by the finished product. It’s been great to have something to think about and work on that brings people together, even though my fingers have had the most exhausting week of their lives.
What good things have you encountered as a result of the pandemic? Have you taken up a new hobby or found a new passion? Leave a comment or email me.
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I think you're referring to this: https://www.wired.com/2015/03/how-technology-led-a-hospital-to-give-a-patient-38-times-his-dosage/ It's a fascinating example of the swiss cheese effect, and should be required…