Doctors modify practices to help clients in needApril 22, 2020
By ALLEN LAMAN
Some fix your teeth. Others help you see. And then there’s those who use techniques to alleviate bodily pains.
As a pandemic sweeps across the globe, local doctors and health care professionals whose practices don’t directly fight COVID-19 are modifying their businesses to curtail the novel coronavirus’ spread — while also continuing to help those in need.
Services offered by area dentists, optometrists and chiropractors still play a crucial role in keeping people healthy. But these days, the caretakers’ offices look a little different.
Chris Lubenow, practice manager at Wagner Family Dental in Jasper, rattled off the long list of changes his office has undergone in recent weeks. The coronavirus has introduced a few new hoops that staff and patients need to jump through to ensure safe treatment.
The dentistry is open only for about five hours on Tuesdays and Fridays. Elective treatments and standard cleanings have been postponed and rescheduled, beginning in mid-June. The waiting room inside the building sits vacant — the parking lot just outside now serving that purpose for those who need emergency care.
Lubenow said that across the dentistry industry, offices are either taking approaches similar to this, or shuttering their doors entirely for the time being.
At Wagner, more than half of the practice’s staff has been placed on furlough. Those employees are all slated to return to work when guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Indiana Dental Association allow them to.
At the same time, more than half of Wagner’s patients aren’t coming in for appointments, and Lubenow explained that those who carry non-emergency “watch” designations in their mouths could require modified treatment plans when business returns to normal, if the current timeline shift is prolonged.
But at the end of the day, it’s “an understandable, good thing for the other people that are in the building,” Lubenow said, because the new operations style “just minimizes risk, just in terms of exposure.”
When patients call in requesting emergency services, the team conducts a survey to prioritize safety and determine the best means of providing care. Some callers — like those experiencing discomfort while chewing — are encouraged to first try over-the-counter pain medications while maintaining daily care of their teeth. Others — like those experiencing throbbing pain or other serious issues — are brought inside for exams and potentially treatment, such as dental surgeries.
Ultimately, it is up to Dr. Brian Wagner to determine whether a patient has a true dental emergency.
“I think it seems like our region of the world, so far, I’ll knock on wood while I say this, has done a pretty good job at keeping people safe,” Lubenow said. “Keeping people home. So, we’re just trying to follow suit. If there is any way that we can avoid having somebody come into the office, we’ll try to exercise that first and foremost.”
But in the case of a real emergency, the staff knows that treatment is urgent. Patients are permitted inside the practice’s three treatment rooms, and the areas they come into contact with in each are cleaned thoroughly before the next visitors are ushered in.
Wagner’s office communicates with other local dentists and endodontists, too, to ensure that those who need help receive it. Lubenow stressed that dental treatment is still available in Dubois County.
Professional Eyecare Associates and Eyewear Designs, which has locations in both Jasper and Huntingburg, has closed its doors and paused much of the business’ services for nearly a month.
But those who need to be seen can still find their way inside.
A few patients still come in every day. Dr. Tim Troutman, an optometrist who works there, explained last week that these include people with glaucoma, as well as those who are in need of emergency care, like when objects become stuck in eyes or the organs are damaged.
“Those types of things have to be seen, obviously,” Troutman said, noting that bringing patients with eye-related concerns into the practice keeps them out of the emergency rooms and urgent care facilities.
Still, the office is “basically shut down,” he said, as the team pays attention to state leadership to determine when regular business will resume. Troutman said the offices have probably experienced a “90% decrease in patient volume” in recent weeks.
Troutman said the approach Professional Eyecare Associates and Eyewear Designs is taking is one that other practices are implementing, too.
“I think everybody’s kind of doing the same,” he said. “We’re seeing the people that have to be seen. Injuries, and broken glasses and things like that if they don’t have a backup pair. But short of that, it’s pretty much shut down.”
New glasses and boxes of contacts can still be ordered for pickup. But whether the patients are brought in for an eye exam depends on their level of vision change from their last appointment as well as other circumstances.
“We are questioning patients when we call them to make sure that they haven’t had a huge change [in vision],” Troutman said. “If they’ve had a mild change, they can generally get by for a little while with that and live with it. If they’ve had a substantial change, or obviously if they’ve broken the only pair of glasses they have or something like that, we may consider seeing them. But we try to field those questions to determine who is really having serious issues.”
Before patients do come in, surfaces are methodically wiped down, and staff members wear masks and gloves while they meet with them.
“We’re trying our best to service the patients that we can,” Troutman said. “[Patients] that truly need things. But also keep people safe.”
Modified days of operation and fewer patients have also become the new normal at All In One Chiropractic and Acupuncture in Huntingburg. Paired with extra sanitation efforts and precautionary measures, staff members are balancing care and safety to keep their clients healthy.
“Like every place else, we’re doing pretty much what everybody else is doing,” said Dr. Pam Buss, who owns and works at the practice. “Just trying to keep everybody healthy and safe.”
She wants to protect her patients, and she wants to protect her staff. They might not be fighting the virus directly. But they are attacking body pains and other issues their clients continue to experience on a daily basis.
“We’re trying to keep it open to those who are in need of some treatment right away,” Buss said.
All In One is now open only two days a week, and Buss said most patients who typically come in for routine wellness visits have been rescheduling their appointments. The number of people currently coming into the office for treatments is less than half of what it was before COVID-19 concerns began to rise.
Patients are encouraged to enter the building promptly on time or call ahead for their appointments to limit the number of people waiting inside. Those who are immunocompromised come in early in the mornings or at night to safely enter and exit the building.
“At this point, I’d say we’re working on people who are having problems that are hurting,” Buss explained. “We’re not necessarily just doing our wellness care and things like that because [of] the fact of what’s going on.”
Though clients wanting to receive the routine wellness treatments won’t be turned away, Buss explained they are calling in on their own to hold off on their appointments to comply with the state’s stay-at-home order. Because openings are limited, the office is mostly seeing patients experiencing serious issues and pain.
Masks are worn by all employees. Hands are washed routinely, and surfaces are disinfected when patients leave. Those who are sick or have a fever are required to reschedule their appointments.
“And everyone’s been complying quite well,” Buss said.
When Gov. Eric Holcomb lifts the stay-at-home order, Buss said All In One will begin operating on more days while temporarily maintaining its reduced clientele number.
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