As of this writing, COVID-19 has been front and center for more than eight months. Changes that initially might have seemed somewhat temporary in March 2020 have become the “new normal,” not just in healthcare but also at businesses, educational institutions, and other public places.
At the heart of the changes to wound care during the COVID-19 is minimizing the risk of exposure to both patient and practitioner. Here’s a look at some of the changes our industry has experienced during these times, some that are likely to stick around for quite some time.
Limited Access to Wound Care
While hospitals and wound care centers’ hours have become somewhat more “normal” in recent months, the beginning of the pandemic saw serious disruption to wound care. For many patients, this meant access to services was severely limited.
Early in the pandemic, non-essential businesses, medical providers included, were ordered to close. Unfortunately, this meant many outpatient wound care centers were deemed “non-essential.” For patients with non-healing wounds, limited access to treatment or management could be life-threatening or, at the very least, increase risk of dangerous infections, sepsis, and amputation.
Those with risk factors of developing chronic wounds, such as older age, diabetes, obesity, hypertension and chronic lung disease, are also among the most vulnerable to the novel coronavirus; this correlation led the Alliance for Wound Care Stakeholders to advocate that care and treatment of wounds be considered essential. Otherwise, the group surmised, the healthcare system would be more burdened, not less.
Even as medical facilities reopened, a workforce shortage in many areas — from doctors and medical personnel being temporarily reassigned — patients still experienced a barrier to wound care in COVID-19 times. This led to wider adoption of new models of care, such as telehealth.
Internal Changes to Wound Care Center Management & Patient Interaction
The medical journal Wounds explains that in pre-pandemic times, the goal for most wound care patients was “healing at any cost.” This meant if a procedure could improve the likelihood of healing, the patient had the procedure. During the pandemic, however, Wounds notes that the goal has shifted to management; in other words, to prevent complications and hospitalization. That’s a big-picture look at the industry, but what about the day-to-day at clinics and centers?
The healthcare industry is one that’s always been known for its attention to sanitation and safety, but a focus on social distancing initiated many changes to how facilities operate. Hospitals, physician offices and outpatient centers, guided by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommendations, put new methods into practice both behind the scenes and in patient interaction, including:
- Stricter hygiene practices and PPE requirements
- Staggered appointment times
- Appropriate triaging; lower-risk cases treated at home vs. being admitted
- New waiting room policies; ex: patients wait in cars instead of waiting rooms
- New signage of safety rules, including social distance markers
- Increased patient/caregiver education
- Visitor bans in some facilities
- COVID-19 testing before surgeries and procedures
Implementation or Expansion of Telehealth for Wound Care & Other Remote Options
With limited access to medical personnel, tools and resources — as well as transportation challenges and other related issues — more and more wound care patients have been treated at home than ever before. Methods for this include:
- Remote patient monitoring — using internet-enabled devices, wound centers can monitor patients for complications
- Self-care — patients can be sent individually packaged advanced wound dressings (AWDs) along with instructions for use
- Home health — in-home visits from nurses or physicians
- Telehealth — offered in various tiers, telehealth allows doctors to evaluate and care for patients
Our October 19, 2020, blog post, “Incorporating Telehealth Into Your Wound Care Strategy During COVID-19” dives into this topic a little deeper.
The Pandemic Continues, and So Does Its Impact on Wound Care
Today’s Wound Clinic reports that some medical experts predict that hospitals and other healthcare facilities could be operating in “pandemic mode” for up to two years.