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A local family medical practice started offering virtual telemedicine to patients in the last week and has made major changes to how people are receiving care to protect from the threat of the coronavirus.
Jim Morrow of Morrow Family Medicine said that as soon as the family practice got approval from Medicare to start offering telemedicine to patients, they made the change, encouraging residents that still need care to meet with their doctors online.
“We’ve always said that our practice is technologically advanced while still bringing old-fashioned care to people,” Morrow said.
Morrow said that patients have responded positively to the change and have already started to schedule online meetings with doctors, but a few patients have not been able to simply because they do not have a device needed to make the call.
To meet online with a doctor, patients simply need to have a device that has a camera and a microphone installed. The practice put out a survey before launching the new service this past week to ask patients if they have a smartphone, and 97% of them responded that they do, meaning that the service is mostly available to patients who need it.
For those who cannot meet online, Morrow Family Medicine is still meeting patients at its locations both in Milton and Cumming, but patients coming into the building will notice a change.
The practice has recently divided up its waiting rooms to separate those who are sick from those who are well. Anyone needing to fill a prescription, get a check-up or simply ask about sickness prevention are asked to wait in a separate waiting room and treated in a different ward than those who are visiting with signs of an illness.
While Morrow and the rest of the practice have taken extra precautions to keep patients safe, he said that not many people have been visiting or scheduling appointments.
“People assume that small family practices must be swamped right now, but we’re not,” Morrow said. “We don’t have many cases [of COVID-19] in Forsyth County right now, so we’re actually only seeing about half of the people we normally do because they’re staying home, which is good, but you know people still need care.”
For residents who are feeling sick and are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, Morrow said their first step should be to stay at home and away from any family members or roommates who are not sick. The next step would be to call their primary care doctor to see what they recommend.
Morrow said that, with limited testing available, not everyone will be able to get tested for the virus even if they and their doctors believe they have COVID-19. For now, there are certain requirements for testing, and mainly only those who are at risk are being tested.
“Thankfully we have testing centers now throughout the state,” Morrow said.
Morrow said that he has sent a few of his patients to get tested at the testing center in Gainesville — the closest one to Forsyth County. For now, Morrow Family Medicine is also conducting drive-thru tests for its patients. Morrow said that they have tested 13 people so far, but all of the tests have come back negative.
With a drive-thru test, Morrow said that the patient can pull up to a side entrance of the building in their car and a nurse will come out to check the patient’s vitals and then swab the inside of their nose to get the sample that they need.
Morrow said they have to insert the swab about five inches into the person’s nose, going all the way to the back of their throat.
“It sounds terrible really, but if you swab just the inside of the nose, that’s a waste of a swab,” Morrow said. “We need to do it to get enough of a sample and to make sure people aren’t getting any false negatives on tests.”
As testing is still limited and many are still quarantined, Morrow’s best advice for if residents are feeling sick, like many others, is to simply stay home for at least a week. Even if someone is feeling better after only a few days and are no longer showing symptoms, Morrow said that they can still spread the virus within the same week of them being sick.
“Just stay home,” Morrow said.