Urgent Care on the Forefront of the COVID-19 Battle
In the United States, which has surpassed 1.4 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 89,000 deaths (as of 18 May) according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), testing still remains limited. And yet, testing is critical to protect first-responders, frontline workers, and vulnerable populations and to prevent a resurgence.
To help increase testing capabilities across the country, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted emergency use authorization of the new Abbott ID NOW COVID-19 test, which provides positive results in less than five minutes and negative in less than 15. And GoHealth Urgent Care, a national urgent care business with 146 centers in Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Missouri, North Carolina, Oregon, Oklahoma, New York and Washington, is stepping up testing with Abbott’s new rapid test for exposed frontline personnel on the West Coast and in New York.
Filling a gap in care
While urgent care has been around as a health care segment for more than a decade, it has proven its value by playing a critical role in assessing, evaluating and treating COVID-19 patients, as other segments of health care have had to shift their practices or temporarily close them during this unprecedented crisis.
“Where we find ourselves at the tip of the spear, which is frankly what I think urgent care was built for,” says Todd Latz, CEO of GoHealth Urgent Care. “We have about 1,800 true frontline team members who are right on top of this.”
Urgent care centers have advantages compared to testing in hospitals and primary care offices because people can be seen more quickly and be more isolated than in crowded emergency department waiting rooms, helping to prevent those who may have the virus from infecting others. The reason urgent care has become so prominent in this fight against COVID-19 is because primary care is not a particularly good environment for dealing with the outbreak. Many primary care offices are closed or are seeing patients only through virtual visits, as they are not trained in or equipped with adequate personal protection equipment (PPE).
“Primary care offices were not designed to deal with something of this scale, of this magnitude, or the seriousness of it,” says Latz.
Urgent care is typically seen as an alternative to the hospital emergency room. Trying to triage, assess and evaluate all COVID-19 patients in the emergency room though could expose emergency medical personnel unnecessarily and shut off a much larger access point for all sorts of medical needs, COVID-19 related and not.
“That leaves urgent care as that perfect middle spot between primary care and the emergency department,” says Latz. So, for example, a patient with light symptoms who does not require hospitalization, can be evaluated, tested, and treated without being exposed to or exposing someone else in the ER. And with more sites within a community, urgent care facilities are more accessible and faster.
Scaling up during a crisis
With health care organizations advising people to avoid non-essential in-person medical visits, patients and caregivers alike have relied on virtual appointments. Urgent care clinics have also been able to use telemedicine to assess patients and in turn, help reduce the spread of COVID-19 and preserve PPE. GoHealth Urgent Care scaled its virtual care platform to cover its entire network within a matter of weeks.
“We always felt that we move and grow at an accelerated pace from an innovation standpoint, but we’ve never done anything like what we’ve done over the past six weeks,” says Latz. “We’ve taken 18 months of work and crammed it into six weeks and pulled it off.”
GoHealth Urgent Care and its partner Northwell Health used their online scheduling platform to assist the State of New York in the first mobile testing site in the New Rochelle containment zone, allowing patients to be seen in an orderly fashion for testing and minimizing long lines. GoHealth Urgent Care and its partner, Novant Health in North Carolina, used the queuing system to set up one of the first curbside testing sites in the United States, another important innovation that keeps patients and medical staff safer and preserves PPE supplies.
Offering COVID-19 results faster
Now, in critical markets including California, New York, Oregon and Washington, patients, after being assessed virtually, can be tested in real time using the rapid molecular test from Abbott. Given the limited nature of testing supplies, priority is still being given to exposed frontline personnel and first-responders.
“The biggest issue has been access to the tests,” says Latz. “We’ve been testing in New York since the beginning, and Northwell Health has really done a magnificent job at rolling out lab-based testing early, increasing both the capability and the speed with which they could do it.”
For GoHealth in California, Oregon, and Washington, the real benefit of the Abbott test is the turnaround time. “One infected person if they don’t know they are infected can expose and infect 4,000 other people,” says Latz. Getting the results within minutes helps lower the infection rate.
GoHealth Urgent Care has also used the rapid testing in senior living facilities across a number of markets on the West Coast, which have high rates of infection. At one skilled nursing facility, Latz says, they recently tested the employees and patients, all of whom were asymptomatic, and found five employees who were unknowingly infected and would have quickly spread the disease to at-risk patients.
“Being able to provide them that information in real time allows them to completely change their operation so they can put their people in PPE and can quarantine appropriately,” says Latz. “And we’ve used that particular data to inform other congregate living facilities in our markets. Even if they are not testing, they can start to make assumptions and take measures to protect both their residents and employees from one another.”
Getting ready to return to work
Testing is necessary to be able to reopen society and have people to return to work and their day-to-day lives safely. Companies will have to make decisions about who to bring back to the office and create a testing and ongoing management plan so that those who are infected can be identified to stop the spread.
“There are a dynamic set of decisions, protocols and activities that are going to have to happen because we need to be able to anticipate second waves, rebound spikes and other COVID-19 evolutions,” says Latz. “It’s all about preparing for the new normal and staying nimble so you can react in that environment because none of us has the ability to predict what’s going to happen.”
GoHealth Urgent Care has been preparing for weeks and is already assisting employers of all types with their return to work and continuity of business plans and programs to ensure that they can safely manage a constantly evolving situation. Essential infrastructure businesses, like power plants and commercial farms, essential commercial businesses, such as grocery chains, health care facilities that care for at-risk patients and office environments alike need a thoughtful, structured and customized plan to safely and effectively move forward with testing, evaluations and monitoring of their employees’ health and must be agile in order to react to whatever comes next. According to Latz, GoHealth Urgent Care is well prepared to assist them with that entire process.
For more crisis leadership stories like these check out the COVID-19: Leading Through Crisis page on YPO.org. All YPO members can find breaking news, offer insights and view current discussions happening about COVID-19 impact within the YPO community on the YPO member-only platform.