Even with social distancing, Clinic plays central role in patients’ lives

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Venice Family Clinic has made several changes to how we deliver our services to ensure the safety of our patients and our medical staff. These changes include rescheduling non-urgent appointments and transitioning 65% of our in-person visits to phone calls, so we can decrease the number of people in our clinics at any one time and focus on patients who have immediate needs, including testing for COVID-19.

To keep everyone as safe as possible, we’re also encouraging our patients to call us before coming in. Our call center continues to schedule appointments – some in-person and some by phone – based on each caller’s individual circumstance and concerns. The providers staffing our triage line are educating patients on how to be “safer at home” and practice proper self-care, as well as providing medical assistance, often within a few hours of a patient calling.

The Clinic had previously embraced telemedicine, holding regular check-ins via phone with some patients who are managing chronic disease, including those with diabetes and hepatitis C, so we were well positioned to quickly transform the majority of our preventative care and behavioral health services to telehealth, according to Chief Medical Officer Dr. Despina Kayichian.

Kayichian recently described her experience with one of her patients when she called to tell him that his regular in-person visit would now be done over the phone.

“He didn’t allow me to speak at first, because he thought I was telling him to come in to the clinic. And I told him you don’t need to come in, we’re going to talk on the phone,” she said. “It turns out he was anxious about needing to come in. So some of our patients are actually breathing a sigh of relief to hear that we are doing phone visits instead.”

For the most part, our patients tell us they are appreciative of these efforts. But trying to replicate the social role that the Clinic plays in of many of our patients’ lives has been a bigger challenge.

Even though she can’t see them in person at the moment, Vanessa Fernandez, a health educator, makes sure to check in on our patients with diabetes and hypertension, to ensure they’re still checking their blood pressure regularly, and has sent patients exercise guides to do at home, too. She has even reached out to community members who aren’t Clinic patients but who have taken advantage of our free classes just to check in on their well-being.

“They appreciate the calls. It makes them still feel connected to the Clinic,” she said.

One of these patients is a teenager whom Fernandez described as a “picky eater.” While talking on the phone hasn’t been an issue for this patient, making sure this teen makes healthy dietary choices has been challenging, especially now that she is being homeschooled by parents who are separated.

“She is used to having a salad with dinner when she’s with mom, but dad didn’t know that. So I talked to him about implementing that when his daughter is staying with him,” Fernandez said. “She also doesn’t like a lot of vegetables, but she does have some favorites, so we talked about incorporating those as snacks while she’s being home schooled.”

Joey Grotts, a resource case manager at the Clinic, also has come to realize the integral role the Clinic plays in our patients’ lives.

He explained that because many social service agencies have limited their services amid the COVID-19 pandemic that his phone check-ins with patients are more important than ever. He has been providing patients information on the resources that are currently available to them, including food banks, transportation, and special hours at grocery stores for the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions.

“I work with a lot of single adults who don’t usually have a lot of people to talk to, and social distancing has added to their loneliness,” said case manager Joey Grotts. “We’ve been a really nice check-in for those patients. They haven’t had much person-to-person contact, and we’re in a time unlike any we’ve ever seen. Those of us at the Clinic are able to provide resources and social support that they can’t find elsewhere. Especially for people who have difficulty navigating smart phones or computers, finding those resources on their own is difficult. We’re able to walk them through that.”