Author: Lorna Marshall, MD
Seeking care at a fertility clinic can be emotionally draining and, sometimes, outright intimidating. Patients need robust emotional support in addition to excellent medical treatment to meet their needs. Frequent direct contact with physicians, nurses and other health care providers in a welcoming environment can make a difficult journey a little easier, and may even improve the chances of a positive outcome.
Over the years, we have tried to think of every little thing that could make the patient experience at our clinic less intimidating, more comforting. Now, we’ve had to adapt our approach to care because of the COVID-19 global pandemic.
At Pacific NW Fertility, our goal has always been to offer a “high-touch” experience to our patients, while providing quality “high-tech” family building treatments. The term “high-touch” refers to close partnerships between healthcare providers and their patients, and usually emphasizes the emotional – not physical – aspects of that contact. Our clinic has tried to create a high-touch, welcoming environment through the accumulation of small gestures like staff members warmly greeting every patient, fresh flowers in the lobby and hand-written notes describing pregnancy ultrasounds. As physicians, we have tried to personalize the care of our patients by crafting individualized treatment pathways, by doing as many of our own patients’ ultrasounds and procedures as possible, and by celebrating successes with our patients. Sometimes, “high-touch” means hugs to show empathy or celebrate success.
Our goal has always been the same—to give our patients the best possible chance of success and to make them feel cared for during their journey, whatever the outcome.
And then came coronavirus and the COVID-19 pandemic. As we have learned more about this sneaky, highly infectious virus, our clinic, physicians and staff have had to rapidly change our practices. At first glance, it seemed that the concept of “high-touch” fertility care would be gone forever.
Every patient is now greeted at our front door by a staff member whose smile is covered by a surgical mask. Patients must wash their hands, have their temperature taken, answer questions about symptoms of COVID-19 and be issued a surgical mask. On to the reception desk, where there are more masked people to check them in, along with a bottle of hand sanitizer. The waiting rooms are stark compared to past months and are nearly empty. Brightly colored magazines and fresh flowers have been removed. Our schedules have been carefully tailored to keep the number of patients waiting to a minimum. No partners are allowed, so there is little conversation.
Professional guidelines advise us to limit the physicians who are in the office on a given day, so your primary physician might not see you for ultrasounds or procedures. This is difficult for us, too, because our greatest pleasure is direct person-to-person contact with our patients. But we are resigned to the reality that this is necessary for patient safety.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, we are still working to create warmer, more caring experiences for patients whenever possible. We are trying hard to salvage as much of the “high-touch” experience as possible.
Both physicians and patients are loving the use of telehealth for initial visits. We can safely see our patients’ faces and they can see ours, and the memory of that connection can carry us through to our masked encounters. That first scary visit might be even more comfortable than in the past because our patients are in their chosen environment and their partner—as well as their dog and favorite hot beverage—can also be present.
In the clinic, we can no longer greet you with a handshake, but now use a smile, friendly wave, a slight bow. Above our masks, we try to connect by “smiling with our eyes;” this is especially hard with goggles or a face shield, but we do our best. We might call you to see how you are doing or arrange telehealth visits to check in on you throughout your cycle. Our nurses might also use telehealth to encourage you to give your first shot. As always, our team of physicians is committed to caring for every patient in our center, no matter who the primary doctor is.
From six feet away, beneath a mask and through a face shield, high-touch care looks very different. We want every patient to feel that they can still get high-quality, emotionally satisfying care. We invite every one of you to help us by suggesting ways to make your experience better. There may be more barriers to connecting in person, but we are caring about you from a distance. And we want you to feel as connected and cared for as you would have before the pandemic.
Lorna Marshall, MD