Physicians work together to tackle public health emergency

March 19, 2020

“We’re all in this together, and it shows – from the movie “High School Musical”

With COVID-19 upon us, we are all engaged in a war. A war against a virus with no definitive treatment and no population immunity. There has not been a time in recent history where physicians, nurses, allied health professionals, and health care administrators are at the forefront of a public health emergency of this scope. More than ever, we are and must continue to work together toward a common goal. 

I am incredibly impressed and inspired by the work of the many physicians on the front lines. I see in my own community how colleagues are going to extraordinary lengths and showing enormous courage as they support British Columbians during this trying time. I know this is replicated hundreds of times in communities impacted by this virus. I can say that I have never been so proud of our profession. 

I also want to acknowledge the work of Doctors of BC during this crisis. We are advocating strongly for our members and their patients, and staff have worked closely with government on initiatives like billing changes that will enable physicians to expand their use of virtual care. For information on the work of Doctors of BC and supports available to you, please check out our COVID-19 web hub which also includes my President’s Letters that outline in details the advocacy work. 

Confidence in our health care system

I want say emphatically that I have the greatest confidence in our public health system and the Centre for Disease Control here in British Columbia. We can be proud of the depth and breadth of their knowledge and experience as we navigate the evolving global COVID-19 pandemic. As a nation, we are drastically reducing the number of people who can cross the border into our country; as a province we are taking necessary and critical steps to reduce mass gatherings; and within our healthcare system we are cancelling elective procedures to free up critical hospital space. 

Regular communication with trusted healthcare providers and the public keeps everyone as informed as they wish to be. This situation will be a “trial by fire” for the Canadian healthcare system.

Arrangements are well underway across the country. Supplies, ventilators, and the workforce are being prepared and accounted for. When we compare ourselves to many countries with less well developed healthcare systems, we can and should be able to assure the public “We’ve got this.” 

Everyone has a role to play 

As we deal with the increasing prevalence of COVID-19 in the community, frontline providers are feeling great pressure to provide necessary health care services. Our clinics are inundated with patients wanting to be tested, even when their symptoms are mild, to know if they should self-isolate. They want to protect those around them, however testing swabs are in short supply, not to mention PPE, and the reality is we are unable to test everyone to be certain. Patients are asked to stay home if sick - even if they can’t confirm that they have COVID-19. 

The role of the public to self-isolate is critically important to “flattening the curve,” so physicians, indeed the entire health care system, are better able to handle any increased load of those who are infected. This is causing increased anxiety in many patients already struggling financially, who may not be compensated for doing the right thing.

Our health authorities are also stepping up to meet the challenges. We are building capacity in our emergency rooms to deal with increased burdens of respiratory illness and taking inventory of our intensive care beds, oxygen, and other supportive treatment supplies. We are carrying out simulations for important procedures, and actively preparing to stop the spread of the virus in facilities. Protections and protocols for our facility-based healthcare providers are being regularly reviewed and updated as knowledge of the virus evolves. 

Community care providers have faced the reality of viral exposure with limited resources for protection to date. Typically, when frontline providers are under-resourced in an evolving global epidemic, the community is at risk. Community physicians have risen to the challenge. They are rapidly shifting modalities of patient care. Clinics are establishing telemedicine and telephone visit procedures to try and meet the needs of the community and keep patients, particularly the most vulnerable, at home. COVID-19 assessment and testing centres are quickly rolling out across Divisions of Family Practice in conjunction with the Health Authorities. 

Living with the fear 

Despite all this work to date, we must recognize that fear is still exists. Physicians, allied health professionals, clinic staff, and emergency room triage are all concerned in one way or another. Nobody is immune, and there’s still so much we don’t know.  

But there is much we are doing - we are sharing knowledge of our important tasks to increase redundancy, in the event that one of us becomes ill or needs to be quarantined. We worry about how we will protect and care for our own families. When all is said and done, we are –crucially- supporting each other. This is our strength as we face the long road ahead of us. Collegiality has never been more important.

I believe we can reassure our public that we will be ready to meet the challenge. Doctors of BC is working closely with all parties, Public Health and Medical Health Officers, Health Authorities, government, and regulatory bodies as the situation evolves. Gaps have been identified early on and it is now a shared healthcare provider and government responsibility to address these.  

If we continue to share responsibility and work together, we can protect our community and gradually defeat this novel respiratory illness.

- Dr Kathleen Ross

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