Doctors' offices ramp up screening, urge patients to disclose full travel history
'Screening is important so that we can provide the appropriate level of health care'
Doctors offices and walk-in clinics across Nova Scotia are ramping up the screening of people who call for appointments to ensure the safety of other patients and front-line health-care workers during the COVID-19 outbreak.
The Regency Park Family Practice in Clayton Park in Halifax is asking all patients to call ahead for an appointment time, and that includes walk-ins.
Everyone will be asked four screening questions about their travel history and contact with others who have travelled, according to guidelines from Nova Scotia Public Health.
"We're being very strict about it," said Shellene Becket, the managing director of the clinic. "We have heard of other clinics who've had people come in and misrepresent their travel history until they got into the room with the doctor.
"So we are being very strict and trying to get the message across that accurate information at screening is important so that we can provide the appropriate level of health care in the appropriate place for people."
Anyone who does not provide accurate information during the screening process will no longer be seen at the Regency Park practice, which has 22 doctors.
The screening guidelines from public health officials were issued on March 11, and apply to all university health clinics, family practice offices, walk-in clinics, outpatient clinics, ambulatory care and specialty-care clinics.
The Regency Park clinic is going above and beyond the requirements, and has begun its own set of protocols designed to keep patients and staff safe.
Screening and cleaning
The clinic is suggesting that people who arrive by car check in and then wait in their vehicle to be called for their appointment. That's meant to free up space in the waiting room so people who arrive by transit or foot can keep more distance between them.
The clinic is also wiping down surfaces in doctors' consulting rooms in between every patient.
"We had routine cleaning measures anyway in between patients, we're just taking it a little bit further," Becket said.
"We wouldn't necessarily wipe down the arms of the chairs every single time a patient went into a room; now we're doing that. Every time the patient goes in and they leave, we're doing those cleaning protocols [for] any touchable surface.
"Kids who are in exam rooms love to come up and put their hands on the mouse and the keyboard before the doctor comes in the room. So now that's all wiped down right before the doctor comes in the room and the patient comes in the room."
The extra cleaning and screening is taking more time, which reduces the clinic's capacity to see patients, but Becket said it is still quite busy with 25 patients coming through on Monday morning.
Many patients who do not need to be seen in the clinic are not coming in, and doctors have been able to help some over the phone.
Possible COVID-19 cases to be referred
Becket said any patient who is identified through the screening process as being a possible COVID-19 case will not be asked to come to a doctor's office, but will be referred on to 811.
She added that family practice offices are able to send referrals directly to COVID-19 assessment centres. Her office has already done so once, and was impressed that the patient received a call back from the assessment centre within 10 minutes.
Becket said it's important for patients to know that they will get seen and to answer the screening questions truthfully.
"The fear is that the patient is so anxious and so afraid that they won't be seen quick enough or have their situation looked after that they just want to get in to the doctor. What they're not realizing is that in doing so they're putting other patients, other members of the public at risk. They're putting front-line health care at risk," she said.
"We don't need to put them at risk and have them self-isolated for 14 days and not able to be out there helping the people that need help right now. So that's why it's imperative that we're truthful and that we manage it in the way that our chief medical officer has requested."