Keizer MD, dentist on shifting to telehealth

The team at SmileCare of Oregon on River Road North received adulation from OSHA inspectors as one of only two dentist offices in the state that had met all pandemic guidelines the first time out.

Despite specializing in wellbeing, the healthcare industry was not immune from the effects of COVID-19. Because of the need to minimize potential exposure to the virus while still providing treatment, patients can now call their doctor on their lunch break, without taking any time off.

Keizer physician Jennifer Lee of Salem Health embraced the start of telemedicine within the community.

“This has been a positive of COVID-19 because it really pushed the federal and state government who manage [Medicaid and Medicare] to embrace telemedicine as opposed to, in my experience, the very long arduous process to get those types of things,” Lee said.

Virtual medicine gives greater access to patients experiencing homelessness, patients struggling with mental health and patients with kids in school. Moving forward Lee thinks it will become part of the norm.

“Even if it’s a chronic disease like diabetes, being able to have a virtual appointment gives them greater flexibility in their schedule,” Lee said. The patient may still need to go in for lab work, but that can be completed after a 9-to-5 five work day; once they get their results they can talk with the doctor virtually to avoid taking time off.

Even though telemedicine is a good thing, there is still a need for in-person visits. Lee said the clinic has been taking great care to minimize the risk of COVID-19 transmission and patients should not be afraid to come in if needed.

“It’s important that patients recognize the need for ongoing healthcare, even in the midst of a pandemic,” Lee said. She urged people not to forgo their healthcare in fear of the virus, especially for things that could be addressed online.

COVID also hit the dental care industry, Keizer dentist Thalia Ohara, of SmileCare of Oregon, has made a lot of changes in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Patients are screened the day before their appointment via phone, then again before they enter the building. They get their temperature checked at the door and are not allowed to touch any of the doors, knobs or handles.

The staff wear face shields/glasses, a mask, a gown and gloves, which are changed and/or disinfected in between every patient. There is a limit of two people from the same family in the lobby, which has been equipped with protective shields.

They were practicing telehealth and limiting patients to emergency visits only at the beginning of the lockdown, but now they can schedule in-person visits following CDC guidelines. Ohara hopes that they can be caught up with everyone’s missed cleanings by the end of the year, but they have several months of appointments to make up.

“We had to prioritize treatment based on severity of treatment and did a lot of emergency and urgent care in the beginning,” Ohara said.

Ohara referred to dentistry as working at ground zero. Since COVID is transferred through droplets that expel from the mouth and nose, dentists need to take great care and use Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to keep themselves and their patients safe.

“When we were able to open our doors again, we needed to have two weeks worth of PPE and that became difficult to get. We are still waiting on orders we placed at the end of March,” Ohara said. She said the some of the PPE her office tried to purchase has been backordered, substituted, price gouged or subject to quantity limits.

Though she works in close proximity with many different people, Ohara also said she feels confident in her safety.

“We have great patients and they’ve been honest and have cooperated and been so understanding if we needed to reschedule their appointment,” Ohara said. Appointments need to be rescheduled if a patient has tested positive for COVID, is exhibiting symptom, or has been in contact with someone diagnosed with COVID.

“Life is not without risk and we just need to mitigate those risks that we are exposed to,” Lee said.