Addressing Patient Fear
Robert A. Glazer, CEO of ENT and Allergy Associates, says new safety precautions may hurt the bottom line, but are the only way to reopen and gain patient confidence. His practice, which includes 44 offices in the New York City region staffed by 170 otolaryngologists, 50 allergists, and 130 audiologists, is following CDC guidelines. Volume in the practice’s Manhattan locations has dropped dramatically, he said, but offices outside of Manhattan were seeing about 65% of their typical volume as of June.
Explore This IssueAugust 2020
“If you want to regain your patient population, you need to make sure you’re providing patients with a sense of security,” he said. “Part of it is putting in place these security protocols of temperature checks, masking, and social distancing. And don’t just talk the talk—walk the walk. When I go to work in the morning, the first thing I do is get my temperature checked.”
Glazer said that during the first six weeks after the practice reopened, physicians could sense fear among patients. “They had to spend time at the beginning of each exam calming them down and counseling them about what methods we’ve put in place for their safety,” he said.
We were closed for approximately two months. Patients can go without care during those times, but they don’t want to delay potential new diagnoses or let existing conditions linger. —Gavin Setzen, MD
Months later, his physicians report less patient anxiety, but some fear is still there. “They still get comments such as, ‘Gee, I didn’t expect to be in the waiting room as long as I was.’ One of the things I don’t think I’ll ever go back to is allowing [clinicians] to schedule five patients an hour. We’ll keep it at four and limit the number of patients in our waiting room. You have to be cognizant of the fear that’s out there and change the way you do things to match the anxiety levels.”
Visiting a doctor is likely safer than other activities people are engaging in, Dr. Pynnonen said. “In healthcare settings, currently everybody who enters the building is asked about symptoms,” she said. “Everyone is given a mask or wearing one from home. In addition, we’ve taken care to try to create and preserve social distancing as much as possible. Given that everybody has been screened for symptoms and everyone is wearing masks, the risk is minimal. It isn’t zero—you can never eliminate all risk—but I think it’s minimal.”
As for the risk to clinicians and staff, “I think with the right level of PPE they’re only at slightly increased risk,” Dr. Ow said. “But doctors like me, in the offices keeping everyone out who has symptoms, our risk is probably less than someone who works at an In-N-Out Burger, honestly.”