As area health providers began preparing for an expected increase in COVID-19 cases, they also began to update the way they see patients to avoid exposure.
Examples included ramping up telehealth visits, limiting hospital visitors and even setting up outside tents for procedures to keep people out of indoor waiting rooms.
As of March 26, New Hanover County officials reported 15 confirmed cases of the coronavirus. But those numbers could be underreporting the levels. Of the nearly 500 test samples reported to the county, 278 were still pending.
Also as of March 26, Brunswick County reported 11 positive cases and 240 pending test results; Pender County had not reported a positive case.
As presumptive positive cases continued to increase – despite a backlog of testing – health systems changed up procedures for seeing patients to help prevent a surge.
New Hanover Regional Medical Center on March 20 announced it was postponing nonessential surgeries until further notice, also as a way to conserve staffing, space and resources to prepare for COVID-19 impacts, according to a news release.
The hospital also put out a call for donations of personal protective equipment for health care workers such as N95 masks and face shields.
Novant Health set up an outside station at 13 Medical Campus Drive Supply for a drive-thru COVID-19 screening center, allowing those experiencing potential symptoms to talk to a provider.
Wilmington Health instituted open-air clinics, not for testing of the coronavirus but for other patients to be seen.
The sites are not drive-up tents but being used after people are prescreened over the phone or remote video and have to have in-person tests done.
The physician group pushed to significantly increase its telehealth resources and usage.
“We have moved strongly into telehealth and video visits. Two weeks ago we had very few, if any, telehealth visits,” Wilmington Health CEO Jeff James said March 23. “Last week we did about 450. This week we expect to do probably in the thousands.
“As of today almost all of our specialties have telehealth access. It was a very large push from our organization and some tremendous work from very strong leaders from in our organization to deploy telehealth on a very wide, very rapid basis.”
NHRMC’s physician group network also is turning to video visits, both for scheduled appointments and then COVID-19 prescreening if possible.
Another health safety procedure for NHRMC Physician Group offices is to limit patients’ time indoors. Officials said that patients now are able to register and check-in for their appointments without leaving their cars, waiting there until an exam room is ready.