Baptist Health implements physical distancing measures to protect patients, prevent COVID-19 spread

July 02, 2020

Madisonville, KY (July 2, 2020)

As scientists continue to study COVID-19, a major culprit has emerged in the key question of how people become infected. While it’s possible, but not very common, to contract the virus from a contaminated surface, research reveals that the most likely way to get infected is through close-up, person-to-person interactions.

Baptist Health has taken a variety of measures to eliminate such close interactions and encourage physical distancing at its facilities across Kentucky and in southern Indiana. 

“We have made concerted efforts in our facilities to help our patients, staff and visitors follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines regarding staying at least six feet apart,” said Jackie Gisch, system vice president of Safety, Quality and Patient Experience. “Our focus is to keep everyone safe and to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

Visual reminders

Baptist Health has placed more than 1,000 clear barriers throughout its facilities to aid in protecting both patients and staff when conversations are necessary.

“The barriers have been installed at reception desks, registration areas and screening stations inside hospital and doctor’s offices,” said Matt Snow, system assistant vice president for facility and sign services. “The barriers serve as protection when patients and staff may need to be within six feet of each other to discuss personal health information. We want to protect our patients without sacrificing their privacy.”

Floor decals placed in six-foot intervals also help patients and visitors maintain appropriate spacing.

Those coming to Baptist Health facilities have their temperature checked and are asked a series of screening questions before they are allowed to enter. Because of the screening procedures, some facilities have limited the number of entrances and have designated separate exits so people navigating in and out can avoid crossing paths. 

Limited visitors

Visitor restrictions are still in place at Baptist Health facilities to protect patients and staff and to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Sites have varying restrictions based on physical limitations of waiting space or clinic space.

Visiting patients at Baptist Health hospitals depends on the area of the hospital in which the patient is receiving services or treatment. In many cases, if a visitor is allowed it is for a restricted period of time, and the visitor is asked to remain in the patient’s room.

In most Baptist Health Medical Group practices as well as Baptist Health Urgent Care clinics and outpatient diagnostic facilities, visitors are limited to:

  • One parent or guardian can accompany a patient who is younger than 18.
  • One person can accompany a disabled/dependent/vulnerable patient who requires support or assistance.
  • One to two family members/support persons, with prior approval and appropriate personal protective equipment, can be present with a hospice or end-of-life patient.

Non-traditional waiting

Long before a patient arrives at a Baptist Health facility, staff members have already been at work strategically scheduling appointments and procedures so that they can avoid crowded waiting rooms and patient treatment areas.

Some waiting areas are too small to accommodate physical distancing. In those cases, a patient is asked to call the clinic or facility upon arrival on the property and then wait in their cars until a treatment or procedure room is available. This eliminates or reduces time that a patient spends in a waiting area.

For larger waiting areas, chairs have been removed, blocked or marked with signs to help patients and visitors maintain physical distancing. 

Using technology

Six Baptist Health Medical Group (BHMG) practices in Lexington, Ky., are piloting geosensing technology through MyChart, Baptist Health’s patient portal.

Using the MyChart app, patients can complete most of the registration process before arriving for their appointment. When the patient nears the clinic, the geosensing (tracking) feature of the app sends the patient a text letting them know when they can enter the clinic. The tracking feature is operational only when the patient has an upcoming appointment and is within close physical proximity of the clinic. 

Patients still undergo COVID-19 screening upon entering, but their wait times are significantly reduced.

“The idea is to be able to space the timing so that a patient can go from their car to a treatment room without having to sit in a waiting area,” said Shelley Shaughnessy, BHMG chief operating officer. “We’ve received good feedback about the technology so far. It allows for better communication with the patient without jeopardizing their safety.”

Baptist Health is researching additional technology that would allow for similar two-way communication, contactless registration and limited waiting to be available to patients who don’t opt to use MyChart, Shaughnessy said.

Virtual care

Baptist Health was already offering the ultimate in physical distancing services – virtual care, online consultations with providers – before the COVID-19 pandemic struck.

Initially, virtual care was available only through Urgent Care clinics, but once staying at home became widely recommended the technology was made available so that patients could choose to “see” their BHMG providers virtually.

The online care options proved popular. BHMG conducted more than 100,000 virtual encounters from mid-March to mid-May. 

Virtual care visits have now decreased, in part because the public has gained confidence to venture out and also because there are many clinical services that still must occur in person. But Shaughnessy sees virtual care as “a very important venue for how we provide care from now on.”

‘Up for the challenge’

COVID-19 has impacted the way Baptist Health treats patients and the way it conducts operations internally. Leadership teams meet regularly to exchange ideas concerning additional physical distancing and other safety measures.

“We’re always mindful of how we can keep our patients safe without decreasing the great patient experience they’ve come to know and expect from Baptist Health,” Gisch said. “It can be a delicate balance, but we’re up for the challenge because this pandemic has shown us that many of these safety measures are definitely here to stay.”