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Piedmont’s Oconee Health Campus Sheds Light on New Safety Measures

Watkinsville, Ga. (June 10, 2020) – It’s been more than two months since the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) announced the first case of COVID-19 in Oconee County. Now, as cases begin to decline, many hospitals, clinics and other healthcare facilities across the state and country are beginning to re-open, resuming the care needs that were postponed in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. But many are left questioning what a trip to the doctor’s office will look like in the age of COVID-19 and whether it’s truly safe to go.   

Thomas Wells, M.D., an internal medicine specialist at Piedmont’s Oconee Health Campus, says many of his friends, family members and patients in the community have been asking him these same questions.

“Our patient experience has changed since COVID-19,” said Dr. Wells, who also serves as the medical director of Piedmont’s primary care services for the region surrounding Oconee County. “When you visit our campus now, the way we operate is different as we navigate a post-COVID-19 world.”

For starters, the new waiting room is your car. “We’re asking for patients to wait in their cars until its time for their appointment. That way, there’s less interaction and fewer people in the office at one time,” said Dr. Wells.

Dr. Wells says Piedmont is calling this new process a “mobile waiting room.” Patients who arrive for their appointment are prompted to call the doctor’s office they’re visiting to let them know they’ve arrived. These patients are asked to wait in their vehicles until the exam room is properly sanitized and the provider is ready to see them.

Under some circumstances, if a patient is exhibiting COVID-19-related symptoms, the physician will don the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) and conduct the visit in the patient’s vehicle.

“All of this creates a safer environment for each of our patients,” said Delena Brockmann, executive director of the Oconee Health Campus.

According to Brockmann, once a patient is called in for his/her appointment, the next step is then have to go through the campus’s health screening station, where patients and visitors receive temperature checks and answer questions.

“It’s only a few questions and takes no more than five minutes, but it’s another safety measure that we have in place to protect our patients and visitors coming into the facility,” Brockmann said.

Everyone who enters the Oconee Health Campus, as with other Piedmont locations, is required to wear a mask, and Brockmann says her team encourages bringing in a mask or face covering from home if available.

Once a patient arrives to the physician’s office inside, they’ve escorted into an room that’s been properly sanitized. “Then your appointment goes as it normally would,” Dr. Wells said.

According to Dr. Wells, these are just a few of the efforts taking place to keep everyone safe. For example, the team has made changes to the check-out process, no longer accepting in-person transactions when paying a co-pay and other payment in order to minimize person-to-person interactions. Also, for those who remain fearful of returning to a physician’s office in-person, Dr. Wells says that there are still options to see a physician.

“We have rapidly scaled up our telehealth services since the start of the pandemic,” Dr. Wells said. “Our patients can schedule an appointment to see their physician virtually. All they need is a computer or smart phone with a camera. I’ve seen many patients who’ve chosen this option, and we go through the appointment just as we would if they were seen in-person.”

The bottom line is that patients should know that health systems are doing everything they can to keep patients safe so community members shouldn’t delay or choose not to receive care for ongoing health issues.

“We’ve taken a series of steps that will create a safer environment for patients and our employees who are returning to receive care since the peak of the pandemic,” Dr. Wells said. “It’s better to treat something sooner than later, so it’s important to continue care, whether it be by coming in person or utilizing our telehealth option.”

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