Fragmentation of care was already making it harder to maintain close ties with patients, with hospitalists and urgent care centers taking over some of what used to be family medicine’s scopy of practice. Now a viral pandemic has many patients reluctant to come for office visits. But it’s still important to know what’s going on with their health. Here are four ways to stay connected in these unusual times:
1. Embrace virtual communication. Use of video visits, portal messages, and phone calls has increased rapidly during the pandemic. But it may require more time to get the same amount of information out of these virtual encounters than in-person visits, because of the loss of some non-verbal cues or physical touch.
2. Keep in touch with patients who are going through significant medical issues. If another physician has diagnosed one of your patients with a serious illness, it’s worth proactively calling or sending a message to find out if the patient wants to talk to you about it.
3. Prioritize seeing your own patients. If one of your patients is seeing someone else in the same building, consider stopping by to say hello. It might be your only opportunity to see them in person for a while.
4. When possible, make your presence felt. For example, if you’re not able to be present for a patient’s labor and delivery, try to round on mom and baby postpartum, or see them in clinic for a newborn check. If your patient is near the end of life, try to see them in the hospital or hospice, even if it’s a social visit, rather than clinical. If visitors aren’t allowed due to COVID-19, a video chat is still better than not being there at all. Being a reliable, consistent presence during those major life events is still what sets family medicine apart.
Read the full FPM editorial: “Maintaining Patient Relationships in the Age of Hospitalists, Urgent Care, and a Pandemic."
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