New study chalks out COVID-19 precautions to take while visiting your primary health centres or clinics
The researchers concluded that instead of delaying in-person care and appointments, especially for the elderly, pregnant women and those with chronic diseases, a number of safety considerations can be adopted by both patients and healthcare centres to bridge the gap the pandemic has create==d.
Primary health centres like physician’s clinic, outpatient health centres of government or private hospitals and medical colleges, in urban as well as rural areas, form the very basis of healthcare systems in developing countries like India, providing much-needed access to services at affordable prices and at manageable distances from homes.
Disruption of primary health services in India
During the COVID-19 pandemic, however, these services have been disrupted, especially during the lockdowns implemented in large parts of the world.
A study, published in JMIR Public Health and Surveillance in June 2020, mentioned how the pandemic significantly undermined the accessibility and availability of essential health services in India.
The study examined the COVID-19 preparedness of 51 Indian primary health centres affiliated with medical colleges and institutes across India and found that almost all had to constrain their functioning during the pandemic due to weak infrastructure.
Most had limited physical space and queuing capacity, lacked separate entry and exit gates, and had inadequate ventilation and negligible airborne infection control measures. A total of 26 of the centres didn’t even have adequate handwashing and hand hygiene facilities.
Risks of going to primary health centres
These inadequacies and increased transmission risks contributed to the inaccessibility of primary health centres. Once the lockdowns were lifted, most of these health centres and clinics started to reopen gradually.
And this is where concerns arise again, even though people need access to these facilities, some more urgently than others, the pandemic is far from over. The need for continued precautions against COVID-19 infection is high and primary health centres, especially in countries like India, may not be fully equipped to handle the inflow of patients while maintaining safety standards.
While this may deter patients from accessing primary health centres even now, a new study published in the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice discusses how the smooth running of in-person care by these primary health centres may be possible during the pandemic with the adoption of a few strategies based on the Hawaii Pacific Health system (a non-profit system which is conducting trials on new workflow structures for public health, disaster management and emergency situations) and global studies regarding COVID-19 prevention and care.
In-person care and appointment tips
The researchers concluded that instead of delaying in-person care and appointments, especially for the elderly, pregnant women and those with chronic diseases, a number of safety considerations can be adopted by both patients and healthcare centres to bridge the gap the pandemic has created.
The following are the recommendations made in this study.
- All clinics and centres should be accessible by appointment only as this can help manage the social distancing norms and help prevent crowding. Protocols for hygiene and safety should be posted outside the clinic and on their websites (if any) for public awareness. Staggered timings should be implemented and walk-in appointments should be discouraged.
- The clinic staff should make a thorough enquiry about the health of the patient and their family while making an appointment and give them a full brief regarding the hygiene and safety norms. Patients should be asked to wear masks when they come in and must come alone unless a companion is absolutely necessary.
- All clinics and health centres must limit physical contact as much as possible. Any patient information that can be taken on the phone should be done before the date of appointment. Patients can be asked to wait in their private vehicles until the time of appointment or frequently sanitised waiting rooms must be made available to them. The number of people allowed into waiting rooms should be very limited.
- Hand sanitisers should be available at the entry and other parts of the centre. All common spaces and equipment must be sanitized after every use. A distance of six feet should be maintained between all patients, staff and doctors.
- Lab tests, if required, should also be done with appointments and staggered timings to ensure the safety of patients. Labs should maintain separate timings, equipment and access for those getting screened for COVID-19 and those who are getting tested for other conditions.
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