Like a lot of parents, I am concerned about many aspects of COVID-19.
Among numerous other things, I’m worried about what will happen if my kids get sick or hurt during the pandemic. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said, “Will you please be careful? Now is not the time for us to make a trip to the Emergency Room!”
And I wondered at what point I would feel comfortable taking them to a doctor’s appointment if they needed it?
Daughter Showed Signs of An Ear Infection
I learned the answer to that question recently when my 4-year-old daughter showed signs of another ear infection. She was having sleep disruptions (which isn’t normal for her), ear pain, and irritability. I called her pediatrician and discussed the issue over the phone. They would be able to fit her in that day, but because she has ear tubes and has had multiple ear infections recently, she might need to be seen by her ENT.
Her ENT check-up was cancelled back in March, due to the Governor’s orders to cancel all elective procedures and appointments. But beginning May 1, the Ohio Department of Health announced that all healthcare procedures that don’t require an overnight stay in a hospital could move forward. That includes all doctor visits, well-checks, diagnostic procedures, etc., too.
With everything going on, I was more comfortable with her having one doctor’s appointment, not two, for the same issue. So I called ENT at Cincinnati Children’s to see if they could fit her in quickly. I was surprised to find that they had appointments available, if I was willing to drive to a location that was farther away from my home.
Guidelines for Outpatient Visits
I took the appointment and then the scheduler explained how visiting procedures are different now with COVID-19. He first made sure that no one in my family was currently experiencing symptoms or had been recently exposed to someone with COVID-19. Only two caregivers, and no other children, would be able to attend the appointment. Further, upon arrival, we would go through the screening station at the main entrance and the following things would happen:
- My daughter and I would both need to wear masks (they would be provided to us or we could wear our own)
- They would again ask us a series of questions to make sure that we’re not experiencing symptoms of COVID-19
- Someone would take both of our temperatures
- We would need to use the provided hand sanitizer
To cut down on the time we spend in the office, an ENT nurse called before the appointment and asked me all of the intake questions she would typically ask when we were in the exam room. Reason for the visit. Her symptoms. Etc. I can’t tell you how much I appreciated this. Each specialty clinic may be doing this differently, so it may be worth asking if your clinic is doing this, too.
What It Was Like Upon Arrival
Upon arrival to the Green Township Location, the intake was brief. Plus, everyone was wearing masks and PPE. When we did see other families, we were able to easily keep our distance from them.
There were plastic barriers between us and the customer service representatives. Sanitizer was right next to the desk so that I could use it after I swiped my credit card. We tried to avoid touching things as much as possible. When we went up to ENT on the third floor, I don’t think I had fully sat down on the waiting room chair before my daughter was called back to the exam room. Both the hallway door and the exam room door were opened for us. I’m certain that the wait times are variable, but there was plenty of space in the waiting area for us stay socially distanced from other families even if we did need to wait for a few minutes.
What It Was Like in the Exam Room
Once in the exam room, I wondered whether the room had been cleaned after the previous patient, so I asked. The nurse explained to me that even before COVID-19, clinic staff discard used equipment, wipe down all horizontal and ‘high-touch’ areas (like keyboards and sink handles), and replace things like paper on the exam table. She also told me that a more thorough cleaning is done at the end of the day, and clinics at main campus are disinfected with UV robots monthly.
When her doctor came in, she was wearing a mask and face shield. She washed her hands and wore gloves before she examined my daughter. Naturally she needed to get close to look in her ears, but with her PPE and us wearing masks, I felt like the risk of germ transfer was pretty low. (As a side note, I think we’re going to need to practice wearing face masks at home. It was not easy keeping my daughter from touching it!)
The Visit Helped Us Narrow Down Causes of Her Symptoms
As it turns out, her ears looked fine. Her sleep disruptions and irritability must have been related to the anxiety we’re all feeling. Her discomfort could be allergies. The doctor gave me some strategies to try at home. I’m so glad that we had this appointment because it helped to narrow down the potential causes of her symptoms. We wouldn’t have been able to accomplish that without a physical exam.
When we got home, we took our shoes off, changed our clothes, and washed our hands. I realize we might be being particularly cautious, but three of the five of us have underlying medical conditions that put us in the higher risk category.
So going back to the question: Will I feel comfortable taking my kids to the doctor? I was certainly nervous before scheduling the appointment. But after seeing all of the precautions they took before the appointment, and witnessing how things were handled while we were there, I can say that I will be more comfortable scheduling another one in the future. I don’t think I’ll stop telling my kids to be careful so that we avoid a trip to the ER. But I’d probably say that even without COVID-19 around.