Family Medicine Residency Training Program Responds to COVID-19

                             by Jonathan Dickman, MD, PhD

The current coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has put medical care in new territory. Previously, family medicine providers embraced seeing patients with “cold symptoms” as it was usually a straightforward visit and was a break from providing complex medical care. Today, however, things are different. When COVID-19 came to Minnesota, there was panic whenever a patient described any illness symptoms. This could have resulted in chaos at United Family Medicine (UFM), but instead the faculty and residents at the Allina Health Family Medicine Residency Program stepped up and became leaders.

UFM houses the residency and has benefited from the innovation of the young minds who train in the program. In the past, the residency fostered the development of addiction treatment, ultrasound exams, dermoscopy and now has innovated a response to COVID-19. The first step was to separate sick and well patients to increase the safety of everyone seeking medical care. Drs. Mercer, Balasubrahmanyan, Swenson and Carlson worked together and generated a solution. UFM’s second location at Sibley Plaza would be designated as a “sick clinic” while the main UFM location would be a “well clinic.” Sounds simple enough, but this is not easy, and the beauty of the effort is in the details.

How can UFM ensure the safety of everyone visiting and working at UFM? At the main clinic, all patients are screened for symptoms and temperature is taken before being allowed to enter the building. Any patients with positive screens are asked to go back to their car and are called for further instructions. At the Sibley “sick” clinic, the goal is to minimize the number of places and people the ill patients can contaminate in the building. There is no waiting room. Patients arrive in their car and are called to gather information. They are masked and brought immediately to a clinic room upon entry. One resident physician donning recommended personal protective equipment sees the patient, collects all vitals and labs, and generates the plan with the supervising faculty member, who is watching the visit via a baby monitor. After the patient leaves, the resident physician completes a thorough cleaning of the room and anything the patient contacted in the building. The entire process is incredible to witness and truly a work of art that continues to be steadily improved over time.

This residency team not only tries to perfect the in-person visits, but has also developed a process for completing virtual sick visits via Telehealth. Many ill patients can stay at home and the residency team at Sibley can provide guidance in this virtual format. Protocols have been developed and are continually updated to ensure that up-to-date recommendations are provided, even if the patient does not physically step inside the Sibley clinic. Thus, this residency team is prepared to handle illness concerns in any way that best protects the safety of the patient.

The residency program at UFM has proven that, in a time of crisis, it continues the mission “To Serve and To Teach.” The West End community continues to benefit from the innovation, passion and hard work brought forward by the residency program. Thanks to this team, you can rest assured that it is safe to seek medical care at UFM if you have medical needs or concerns.

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