September 28, 2020

Staying in touch with primary care providers during COVID-19

Madison, Wis. — As the COVID-19 pandemic set in early in 2020, primary care clinics and their patients were impacted significantly, bringing about many changes and some innovations in how patients interact with their trusted physicians.

Maintaining a strong primary care relationship is vital to patients for many reasons. They serve as a trusted resource for advice on health and wellness, help to navigate the complexities of healthcare, manage chronic conditions and monitor changes in health over time, according to Kirsten Rindfleisch, associate professor at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health and physician site lead at Wingra Family Medical Center.

"It's enormously beneficial," she said. "When things change - case-in-point, COVID-19 - having a good partnership with your primary care provider helps guide you in how to keep yourself healthy and cope with illness."

As health systems, including UW Health, needed to consolidate clinics to slow the spread of COVID-19 and protect the critical supply of personal protective equipment, clinic teams had to adapt in order to stay in touch and ensure that patients' primary care provider relationships weren't disrupted.

In the early weeks of the pandemic, UW Health providers and staff used telephone outreach to support high risk patients and adjusted workflows in clinics to provide safe care when patients needed to be seen in person, Rindfleisch said.

Primary care clinics are not under the same restrictions we saw in the spring, but some consolidations remain in place and safety protocols continue to be enforced. Here are some tips for working with your primary care provider now and in the coming months:

  • Whether your provider is seeing patients in your usual clinic or in a consolidated clinic, you can still reach them using the same options you've always had: by calling the clinic, sending a MyChart message or scheduling an appointment to be seen in person.

  • Consider a telehealth visit with your provider. This is a great option for many kinds of care, including discussions about how to stay healthy as well as follow up visits for many chronic conditions. 

"Sometimes I hear from patients who've been assuming that clinics are closed or that providers and staff are too busy taking care of COVID patients to provide the usual services in clinic, but that's absolutely not the case," Rindfleisch said. "The doctors and nurses you know and trust in primary care are available and ready to give you and your family the care you need right now."