“Ad astra per aspera” is the state motto of Kansas, which translates to “to the stars through difficulties” – a sentiment that has never felt more true than it does today. It emphasizes our values and optimism that, even when faced with the most difficult hardships, we come together as a state and keep our sights set on what’s important. We launched our #AdAstraStrong campaign to highlight “stars” throughout Kansas who are going above and beyond to give back to their community and provide hope during these challenging times. Stay tuned for more star stories and stay #AdAstraStrong.
We are excited to recognize our next star, Dr. Verlin Janzen, MD, FAAFP, family medicine physician and Medical Director for Population Health and Medical Informatics at the Hutchinson Clinic. We sat down with Dr. Janzen to learn how the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has affected his practice, his patients, and the community as a whole.
How have you and your staff had to adapt amid the COVID-19 development?
I’ve found that people adapt to change incredibly well. Everything from wearing masks, to seeing patients in a timelier fashion to keeping waiting rooms less full – my staff adapted very well. We also moved our OB/GYN providers out of their building and opened that building just for rapid respiratory response clinic. Everyone who presented to any of our buildings with respiratory symptoms were directed to the respiratory clinic outside of the main building.
Have you or other colleagues started providing virtual visits?
While I had been pushing for telemedicine for a couple of years, we didn’t have any before the pandemic hit. We went from no telemedicine platform, to having our very first telemedicine visit within 24 hours of launch. Most of our primary care physicians began seeing patients via telemedicine within two to three days. We offered telemedicine to any patients that did not want to come in. Lots of patients were reluctant to come into the office even though we had a separate rapid response clinic.
What percentage of patients are you seeing “virtually” vs. in person?
At the beginning, 50 percent of our patients chose to be seen virtually. Now it’s dropped off to maybe 10 percent or less at this point. Patients are now coming back into the office. We continue to do screenings of everyone – employees, physicians and staff – at the door as they enter the clinic. This includes temperature checks and screening questions. We also continue to have patients that are in high risk groups do telemedicine.
What were some of the challenges you faced with virtual visits?
We use a platform called SecureVideo that requires you to have Zoom downloaded on your devices. We definitely had some challenges with our older population, 65- to 70-year-olds. It was hard to get that set up for a lot of patients in this demographic. We did YouTube video recordings to instruct them how to do it and made them available on our website to try to help them.
There were also some internet issues for our more rural patients. They had a heck of a time hooking in and staying connected to internet service. Some had to stand in one spot during the “visit” in order to connect. In the early days of the pandemic, we saw a few people as audio only because the technology wouldn’t work, but we had to “see” these patients.
What other challenges have you faced during the pandemic?
Thankfully, the hospital was okay with supplies. They had a fair amount and got close to running out but never did. We double used masks and did all the things that everyone else was doing. There are not enough N95 masks anywhere, but we’ve had lots of nurses and community members making masks – which has been nice to see the community come together in that way.
We had a few layoffs and curtailed hours due to low volume. We had physicians seeing patients in person from 8 a.m. to noon, then switching to telemedicine in the afternoon. This allowed us to not have as many staff around in the afternoon. We still have doctors working in the office until 2:30 p.m. and seeing patients via telemedicine the rest of the afternoon.
How have you seen patient care change?
What’s been surprising to me is we’ve done better getting our annual visits in this year than last year. We did a fair number during April, when volumes were down. This allowed PCP staff to reach out and get people scheduled for their wellness visits that we haven’t seen in a while. One thing I noticed, the 20- and 30-year-olds that are typically harder to get to come in for their annual visits were more willing during this time. Whether they had more time on their hands or liked the telemedicine option, I’m not sure. We had a list of a dozen patients in this demographic that we’ve been wanting to see. All but three were scheduled and seen. They were pleased with the convenience of the telemedicine option. This may be a new way to reach out to younger demographics to get them engaged in their healthcare.
Where do you see primary care going once we get past this pandemic?
Telemedicine is here to stay. To compete, everyone is going to have to do it. The only question is how do we incorporate it into our everyday workflow? How do we best intermingle patients seen via telemed and the ones in the office? Going forward, more of us (providers) may utilize a mix of telemedicine and in-person visits to provide the best service to the patient.
This pandemic has really made me proud of our organization. They’ve done a phenomenal job adjusting and planning all along. It shows we are adaptable.
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas supports and thanks Kansas’ healthcare workers who’ve quickly adapted throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Your dedication to continue serving our communities in innovative ways is part of the fabric our state is built upon.
See how Blue Cross is supporting telemedicine efforts for Kansas providers