INTRODUCTION: Governments around the world are beginning to relax lock-down measures put in place due to the Covid-19 pandemic and with that, many people are looking forward to having life ‘get back to normal’. But will it, and how soon?
For the past few months, we’ve stayed at home and sheltered-in-place in order to keep the healthcare system from becoming overwhelmed with too many cases of Covid-19 all at the same time. While there is much debate on social media as to whether things were done soon enough, or whether the measures taken should have been implemented at all, here in British Columbia, we are expecting to see the restoring of some medically-related services under enhanced protocols beginning mid-May.
What can people expect when it comes to medically-related services such as Dentists, Physiotherapists, Registered Massage Therapists, Chiropractors and Dietitians? Each of these types of professionals require a different amount of physical contact with clients. For example, Dentists and Physiotherapists must be able to touch their clients in order to provide services, therefore the types of personal protective gear and physical distancing barriers they will need to use will be very different than for someone who is a clinical counsellor or for me, as a Dietitian.
In my case, there would be the need to space out in-person appointments so that clients can physically distance from one another as one client is leaving and another arrives. What this would mean is that I would either need to see fewer people in the course of a day to ensure that there was no overlap between clients, or to provide a waiting area with chairs spaced 2 meters apart, which would need to be sanitized after each use. This extra time would eat into my clinical day and also provide me much less flexibility for me to spend more time with client should it been necessary, since ensuring adequate social distancing between clients would take precedence. In fact, regulations require that before an appointment is even set up, there is the need to screen for risk factors and symptoms of COVID-19.
To protect both my clients and myself, there would be the need for use of some basic personal protective equipment (PPEs).
For example, I would need to wear a face mask in order to greet my clients, as well as to invite them into my office and I would be wearing gloves and a mask to weigh them, and take their waist circumference. Then there would be the need to sanitize the equipment after each use.
My clients would also need to wash their hands well when they arrive, as put on a clean mask (as my mask helps protect them and theirs helps to protect me). I would need to have disposable masks on hand in the event a client didn’t bring one of their own. I would also need a designated place to throw out used disposable gloves and masks — which would need to be treated as a hazardous waste container, since there would be no way of knowing if someone were an asymptomatic carrier of Covid-19. I would also need a place where I could wash my hands well with soap and water between glove changes, or to sanitize my hands with an alcohol based hand-sanitizer.
To protect both my clients and myself during the assessment, my desk would need to have a clear plexiglass screen that would enable my clients and I to see each other, but that would protect each other should one of us sneeze or cough, not to mention should we laugh, or “speak moistly”.
The washroom available for client use would need to have disposable towels available, as well as a designated bin for them to be disposed of as they too would need to be treated as potentially hazardous waste and the bathroom would need to be sanitized after each use.
These enhance protocols take time away from scheduling actual clinical appointments. They require PPEs to be available and provided when necessary, as well as require extra time and labour for cleaning and disinfecting waiting areas, office equipment and washrooms, and to dispose of the waste. For clinical practices that require a clinician to touch a client in the provision of services such as in dentistry or registered massage therapy or physiotherapy, there is no choice, but in my practice there really is no need.
I have been providing Distance Consultations for over a decade; which are virtual ‘face-to-face’ visits that are functionally indistinguishable from the in-person services I provided prior to Covid-19. Virtual appointments are a very efficient use of my client’s time, as well as my own, and no PPEs are required, no disinfecting or extra hand-washing, or sanitizing of waiting areas, office space and washrooms between each client. I can see many more clients in a day because appointments are not spread out due to the need to carry out decontamination tasks between clients.
During virtual appointments my clients and I see each other’s faces when we meet, and can comfortably talk, laugh and even sneeze without concern. Weight from people’s own scales is more than adequate for the types of clients I see, and I provide each of my clients with written instructions for measuring their waist circumference the same way I would do it if they were in my office.
It is apparent that enhanced protocols will need to remain in place in a clinical office setting until there is either a safe and effective vaccine available, or herd-immunity is obtained. Herd immunity is where the spread of the contagious virus within a population is sufficiently low because people had developed antibodies to it from exposure to the virus itself. The challenge in the Covid-19 pandemic is that a reliable vaccine is estimated to be a year or 18 months away and herd-immunity via exposure to the virus is unlikely given that only those who get very ill with Covid-19 produce antibodies.
As I wrote about in a recent post, an article published April 27, 2020 in the journal The Lancet reported that while ~90% of those who have been hospitalized with severe Covid-19 develop IgG antibodies in the first 2 weeks, in non-hospitalized individuals with milder disease or with no symptoms, under 10% develop specific IgG antibodies to the disease. That means that people that don’t get sick enough to require hospitalization likely don’t produce antibodies to the virus, resulting in very low herd immunity. As a result, in a clinical setting, these enhanced protocols will likely need to be maintained until a safe and effective vaccine is available, which is not going to be anytime soon.
The New Normal
As much as we would all like things to “return to normal”, there is the need to accept that for now, this is the “new normal”.
Thankfully, we are living in an era where there is secure video conferencing available which is ideal for clinical work that does not involve clinicians touching clients such as the ones that I provide as a Registered Dietitian.
If you would like more information about the different type of Dietetic services I provide, please have a look under the Services tab or in the Shop. If you have any service-related questions please feel free to send me a note using the Contact Me form above and I will reply as soon as I can.
To your good health!
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- Government of British Columbia, BC’s Restart Plan, May 6, 2020, https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/safety/emergency-preparedness-response-recovery/covid-19-provincial-support/bc-restart-plan#next-challenge
- Altmann DM, Douek D, Boyton RJ, What policy makers need to know about COVID-19 protective immunity, The Lancet, April 27, 2020, DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(20)30985-5
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