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Small doctor's offices are having to make cutbacks with fewer patients coming in for visits

Peak Pediatrics
Posted at 6:48 PM, Mar 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-30 20:48:57-04

WHEAT RIDGE, Colo. — While hospitals across the state are trying to figure out how to accommodate the current and projected number of patients who may have been exposed to COVID-19, some primary care providers are seeing their businesses decline dramatically.

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Peak Pediatrics in Wheat Ridge says the number of patients coming in has decreased by about half. Its neighbor, Pediatrics West, has experienced a similar story.

Like other small businesses, the doctor’s offices have been allowing some employees, like those who work in billing or who schedule appointments with patients, to work from home in order to limit exposure.

With fewer patients coming in, primary care providers are also having to make some difficult decisions about staffing.

“We’ve had to like many small businesses do, do some furlough days and some salary cutbacks to kind of help with the decrease in business that every small business is dealing with right now,” said pediatrician Dr. Brian Gablehouse.

While the statewide stay-at-home order has certainly had an effect on the number of people scheduling check-ups and office visits, part of the reason primary care providers are seeing fewer patients is because there are some mixed messages about what medical services are available.

Hospitals and emergency clinics are trying to limit the number of patients coming in to save their staffing and equipment for serious patients; however, Dr. Gablehouse considers many of the day-to-day services primary care providers offer to be essential business as well.

“We still need to get the immunizations done. We’re actually quite concerned about decreasing immunization rates in an already poorly immunized community and having outbreaks, or at least a mini-outbreaks, of other vaccine preventable diseases on top of what we’re already dealing with. So, we feel like that’s still critical,” Dr. Gablehouse said.

In order to limit exposure and continue serving patients, Peak Pediatrics and Pediatrics West set up a drive-through clinic in the parking lot for patients.

“Were able to do a variety of exams in the cars so listen to lungs, look at ears, do strep tests and flu tests, do COVID-19 tests when it really is appropriate, etc.,” said Dr. Gablehouse.

The offices are also boosting their telehealth and appointments over the phone to reach patients. Patients that need to come in to be seen can first visit the drive-up clinic. The doctors can also e-prescribe medications for patients instead of writing a physical note.

“The vast majority of things that we’re still seeing our normal seasonal pediatric stuff. So we’re seeing lots of influenza, lots of RSV, a lot of strep throat, a lot of ear infections,” he said.

Patients with more serious cases can be taken into an exam room in the clinic itself at the Wheat Ridge location.

Healthy patients who need a wellness exam or some vaccinations, for instance, will be sent to another location to be seen by a clinician.

“The bottom line is, we do want you stay out of the ERs or the urgent cares and we want you to use your primary care providers as a resource,” Dr. Gablehouse said.