Hospitals also started running their own COVID-19 tests with many of the test kits coming from private labs. This came about in part due to sheer necessity. “In the first weeks, it took 14 days to get test results,” Edward says, “which was untenable.” Cox and Mercy ended up launching in-house labs and can now get results within 24 hours. “Testing became critical,” Edwards says. So far, Edwards says Cox has run 7,118 tests, Mercy has run 3,600 in-house COVID-19 tests and Citizens Memorial has run 1,933.
Rise of Telemedicine
For patients who didn’t have COVID-related symptoms and who simply needed basic followup care for diabetes, high cholesterol, mental health treatment, prenatal care… you name it, telemedicine has been a lifeline. “Telemedicine has been used in niches in the past, but the pandemic turned everything on a dime,” says Dr. Jennifer McNay, president of Mercy Clinics in Springfield. “We had the ability to reach patients through video, but COVID has forwarded the training on this.”
One of the perks of telemedicine, is its ability to connect patients and physicians without a face-to-face interaction. Patients can be screened for COVID-19 symptoms or report to their doctor about other health issues they’re concerned about without having to leave their home. This has been especially helpful for those at risk patients who need ongoing treatment for chronic illnesses. “It’s been a tremendous resource,” McNay says. Sistrunk estimates COVID-19 pushed Mercy’s telemedicine capabilities forward 10 years.
The rise of telemedicine is especially evident at Burrell where Davis reports no-show rates and cancellations are at an all-time low. “The barriers that were once there, like transportation, are gone,” he says. “You can call the office and be connected with someone in 30 minutes. The convenience and client experience have been dramatically improved.” But it’s not just patients relying on telemedicine, especially for mental health treatment.
“The other group of people impacted are front line workers like health care and EMT workers,” Davis says. “We realized there were a lot of people out there who were experiencing some sort of anxiety related to COVID.” In May, Davis says Burrell was seeing about a 15% increase in service demand. To help health care workers manage stress and find support, Burrell set up a “warm line.” Health care workers can call in and be connected to others in similar situations and receive help from professional counselors. “We also produced videos on coping skills,” Davis says.