For the past few months Baylor Scott & White Medical Center-Temple has been treating patients who have been struck down by COVID-19, a wretched coronavirus that is highly contagious and not fully understood yet.

“I think there is a lot of fear in the community, and though there is significant support from local residents for the health care system, area residents know that some of the sickest patients come here for their medical care and a number of those individuals have been diagnosed with COVID-19,” said Dr. Tressa McNeal, an internal medicine physician at Baylor Scott & White-Temple and interim chair of the Department of Medicine.

“More than 90 percent of the care we’re providing throughout the Baylor Scott & White system is not COVID related,” McNeal said.

Hospitalized patients and their visitors can be assured they are being protected from exposure to the coronavirus, she said. The testing of patients prior to procedures and the self-monitoring of employees are in place in order to provide a safe environment.

“What we’re seeing are patients at home ignoring symptoms that would under normal circumstances have propelled them to the emergency department or clinic,” she said. “Across the system, we’re seeing patients presenting after the fact and at a point where their situation is much more severe and may require emergency surgery, when it’s likely that the initial problem could have been successfully treated with antibiotics.”

Those visiting the clinics or the hospital are screened for temperature, but won’t be at local businesses they might visit.

“If a patient needs medical care, we want them to come here and get it,” McNeal said. There are processes in place to care for those who have symptoms of COVID-19 and for those who have been exposed to the virus.

Virtual health care was a necessary tool during the first weeks of the pandemic and changed the landscape of medical care. Providers reluctant to use it realized its advantages as clinics shut down in-person appointments.

 If a medical issue can be dealt with in a virtual visit, that’s preferable, but if during a virtual visit it becomes clear an in-person appointment is required, it will be set up in a way that is most comfortable for the patient.

COVID-19 safe care

COVID-19 testing of patients deemed appropriate through individual case review will take place prior to in-hospital surgeries. Patient swabs are collected at drive-through locations.

Virtual waiting rooms will provide updates on surgery when appropriate.

Masks will be provided to patient companions, visitors and staff in hospitals, surgery centers and clinics upon entry.

There is enhanced cleaning and touch-free protocol in hospitals, surgery centers and clinics, including UV-light disinfection and paperless registration.

Much of what used to take place at the front desk in a clinic can be handled with the app MyBSWHealth.

“It’s less time you’re sitting in a common area, completing paper work,” McNeal said.

Adoption of virtual health on the medical and patient sides happened quickly as a result of the pandemic.

The federal government lifted some regulations that made the adoption of virtual visits easier. As did the immediacy of reactions needed in regard to treating coronavirus.

“We now know the power of masking and how it helped slow down the spread of the disease,” McNeal said.

McNeal, who is in a number of clinics each day, said there are protocols surrounding the health care associated with the virus.

Virtual health care is not new, she said.

“The infrastructure was already in place and the usage was gradually increasing when COVID-19 showed up on the doorstep,” McNeal said.