After a flurry of canceled medical and dental appointments over the past two months, healthcare offices are starting to open back up. While not every office is following the exact same safety protocols, there are some changes you will see happening everywhere to meet required guidelines. Here’s what your family can expect:
Someone will screen you at the door.
Before you enter a medical facility, you might be asked if you are feeling sick and/or experiencing COVID-19-like symptoms. A screener will take your temperature and your child’s temperature before allowing entrance. Dr. Hilary Baskin, an orthodontist with All About Braces, says her practice asks patients to fill out a health questionnaire beforehand.
Wear a facemask inside the office.
“Plan ahead, and allow kids to choose their own mask so they will be comfortable wearing it and understand its value,” suggests Dr. Savita Ginde, chief healthcare officer at Stride Community Health Centers, an 18-clinic integrated health system in the Denver metro area. Children under age two will not be required to wear a mask, she says, as they might not be able to breathe well.
The reception area will be different.
Expect that chairs will be moved farther apart to follow social distancing guidelines. Some practices are asking patients to adhere to a “virtual waiting room” policy, meaning they would call the office when they arrive, and sit in the car until called for the appointment.
Waiting rooms that typically have books, toys, and video games will most likely be cleared. You’ll probably see a sneeze guard in front of the reception area, which Dr. Julie Vuong at Sugarbugs Pediatric Dentistry in Arvada says might be a good safeguard to leave in place, even after COVID-19 times.
Expect doctors to wear extra gear and follow additional safety measures.
Your doctors should be wearing masks, face shields, and other protective gear. “In pediatrics, we are always trying to connect with kids, and the face and body is so important, so that is going to be different,” says Dr. Noah Makovsky at Stapleton Pediatrics. “Remind [kids] that their doctor will have a mask but he’s the same person, and will treat them the same.”
Precautions may vary somewhat depending on the type of appointment and procedure, and the doctor’s personal comfort level. For example, in orthodontics, Baskin says her doctors are changing into scrubs in the office, adding gowns in accordance with CDC guidelines, and wearing hair bonnets for aerosol-generating procedures in addition to regular mask and face shield use. “We aren’t able to maintain a six-foot distance—we are in the splash zone,” she says. While dentists aren’t able to maintain distance with patients, Baskin’s practice is separating patient procedure chairs by 12 feet. “The biggest thing that’s different for us is that in the past people were more concerned about blood-borne pathogens. Now this is about airborne pathogens. Anytime we’re opening our mouths, we’re creating some form of aerosol.”
For pediatric dental visits, Vuong says because of the nature of dental work, “dentists were already ahead of the game when it comes to infection control,” but have still added more safeguards. For example, they only allow one operative dental procedure at a time, with an hour of time in between procedures for proper cleaning. Patients are asked to do a special mouth rinse before each appointment. Vuong also says she’s changed to a different local anesthetic that numbs patients more quickly, so procedures can be finished more quickly. “We are doing everything we can to protect us and the patients,” she says.
Don’t bring siblings to appointments.
Doctors are asking that only children scheduled for appointments come to the office, to cut down on the number of people in the waiting room. In some cases, you may not be able to accompany your child beyond the waiting area, or if you are, doctors ask that only one parent comes back.
If the current guidelines won’t work for your family, consider a telehealth appointment. While this won’t work for every procedure, all the doctors contacted report positive experiences with telehealth, and are excited about continuing to reach patients this way, that otherwise wouldn’t be able to come in.
Doctors confirm that children in general are not in the high-risk category for contracting COVID-19, and urge parents to not get behind on vaccines and other health screenings. “Vaccines are really critical—our practice has done so many things to not get behind on health maintenance,” says Makovsky. “Don’t be afraid to make appointments.”