Back to an empty office: a physician’s COVID-19 experience

The streets of Fredericton are deserted, as is my waiting room.

But like thousands of physicians across Canada, I continue to care for my patients in this era of COVID-19.  After 14 days of travel-related self-isolation, I returned to work this week to my family practice.  It is a much different place than I left in late February ― and an empty office today, with just myself and my assistant.

While remote care from home is possible, I prefer to maintain a separation between my personal and professional life. It’s one more step to try and maintain a normal life in what are (definitely) not normal times.

From my office, I am working remotely and interacting with the majority of my patients by telephone ― demonstrating that virtual care is possible even without digital support.  

Although I still have a paper-based system for maintaining patient records, I’m fortunate my province was one of the first in Canada to introduce a fee code to enable physicians to bill for phone-based patient care.

Looking for guidance on introducing remote care into your practice? The Virtual Care playbook is a how-to guide on the processes, technology, security, software and skills you need. 

The playbook was created through a partnership between the Canadian Medical Association, the College of Family Physicians of Canada and The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons.

I’m busy, but I admit it’s a bit lonely.

I miss the physical contact with patients and people coming and going in the office. I have had some low-risk direct interactions with patients, such as providing vaccinations to young children, but these are a rarity.

My patients understand the situation and are grateful for the contact, if only by phone. Most are more respectful of my time than usual and limit the issues they want to discuss.

Without the opportunity for face-to-face interaction, I am trying to be more thorough in my evaluations.  I am also somewhat privileged to have known many of my patients for decades, which gives me a good understanding of their circumstances and health issues.

I am also able to keep in touch with other local family physicians by Zoom. We’re able to discuss and compare changes in care in our region, and it’s been gratifying to see younger physicians step up and take on leadership roles. There’s a real sense that we are all in this together as a profession.

But frankly, the novelty of dealing with this novel coronavirus is starting to wear thin ― not just for myself, but for my colleagues and patients as well.  

The sense of uncertainty about how this pandemic is going to play out is sinking in, and yet life must also go on with this new reality.

I had to drop something off for my daughter earlier this week. When I opened the door to the house to let them know I had arrived, my 3-year-old granddaughter was standing inside.  Rather than come forward with a hug or kiss, she just looked at me and said: “You can't touch me.”

It’s all good, but another sign of how much life has changed.

More from Dr. Ann Collins' COVID-19 experience:

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This material is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice and should not be relied on as health or personal advice. The opinions stated by the authors are made in a personal capacity and do not necessarily reflect those of the Canadian Medical Association and its subsidiaries including Joule.  Feel passionate about this topic? Please connect with us at jouleinquiries@cma.ca.

About the author(s)

Dr. Ann Collins

Dr. Ann Collins runs a full-time family practice in Fredericton, New Brunswick, and is president-elect for the Canadian Medical Association.

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