UI Hospitals and Clinics to open new clinic, conduct video doctor visits amid COVID-19 cases

University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics are developing new measures for combating COVID-19 spread.


Ryan Adams

UIHC Chief Medical Officer Theresa Brennan speaks during a media availability event at the IMU on March 4, 2020. The University of Iowa officials spoke to reporters about the UI’s actions regarding coronavirus.

Alexandra Skores, News Editor

University of Iowa Health Care employees are taking preventative measures to prepare staff for visitors and patients with flu-like symptoms as UIHC shared Wednesday it was caring for one novel coronavirus patient who’s currently in isolation.

UIHC CEO Suresh Gunasekaran alerted hospital faculty and staff members that the patient was being treated there and said hospital staff were notified before the individual came in to receive treatment.

UI Hospitals and Clinics will open a new clinic, conduct video-in doctor visits, and has set visitor limits to prevent the spread of COVID-19 cases in Johnson County and mitigate flu-like symptoms, UIHC Chief Medical Officer Theresa Brennan told The Daily Iowan Wednesday.

The bolstered health and safety measures come as the number of coronavirus cases has risen to 14 in Iowa since three were announced Sunday. Thirteen of those individuals reside in Johnson County and traveled on the same cruise in Egypt, state health officials said.

Brennan told reporters that the UIHC patient was a traveler but did not confirm whether the patient was linked to the Egyptian cruise cases that have been reported in Johnson County.

Brennan said before visiting with a health-care professional, patients exhibiting flu-like symptoms such as severe coughing, sneezing, and sore throat are able to undergo video visits via MyChart.

“When you feel like you need to be evaluated, you just call first,” Brennan said. “That call will then trigger an assessment — if you feel really bad, you need to go to the ER. But, most patients aren’t in that situation, and so the video visit allows us to differentiate if the patient is sick and they need hospitalization, or if they can manage their illness at home.”

The video visits also allow staff to prescribe medications to individuals that call and are recognized to not be COVID-19 patients and reduce the number of noncoronavirus patients in the hospital. The visits would be treated as a regular doctor’s visit, and patients would be billed as usual, with or without insurance, Brennan said.

Beginning today, UIHC will be operating an Influenza-Like Illness Clinic, a respiratory tailored clinic, in order to provide an opportunity for containment and patient care, Brennan said.

Similar to COVID-19, Influenza-Like Illnesses are contagious diseases spread by respiratory drops, which occur when sneezing, coughing, or talking.

Related: UI Health Care admits patient with COVID-19 in ‘critical condition’

“By designating a single clinic, and by pre-screening to make sure that they actually need to come [to the hospital] and need to leave their home, that helps us to do some containment,” Brennan said.

In terms of preventative gear for staff members, Brennan said the hospital is preparing for the next several months in the event that more contained patients come to UIHC. Two types of masks are currently being used at UIHC with staff: N95 masks and surgical masks, both recommended by the Food and Drug Administration.

Brennan said the masks and preventative wear are currently undergoing allocations from companies across the nation to prepare hospitals.

“[The preventative wear] could be in short supply in the future,” Brennan said. “We are keeping track every day of what we have on hand — and right now, we’re OK.”

The FDA currently recommends health-care organizations practice conservation strategies for a range of clinical needs and supply levels. The administration is currently collaborating with manufacturers of personal protective equipment to help facilitate mitigation strategies related to the COVID-19 outbreak, according to the website.

UIHC currently has four rooms in the “special-isolation unit.” Separate from the clinic, the unit has involved the hospital working with the federal government to contain infectious disease patients.

“The first four patients will go [to the special isolation unit],” Brennan said. “After that, it’s likely that if we had more than four patients, it would be more common in the community. We have other units that we would dedicate to these patients, so it would be only COVID-19-type patients on those other units that we have. And we have other isolation rooms throughout the hospital, but our goal would be to keep them together in certain areas to care for them better.”

As for authorized personnel within the hospital, Brennan said there have already been preventative measures taken. New visitor limits have been set within the hospital, as patients are now only allowed two visitors ages 18 or older at any one time in most circumstances.

“We actually are talking about a more significant restriction potentially and screening people at the door,” Brennan said. “Screening — asking them if they have symptoms and maybe taking a temperature. Those are things that we’re talking about and we may institute over the next several days.”

UIHC will focus on educating individuals to stop the spread of germs and influenza illnesses like COVID-19.

“Wash your hands,” Brennan said. “Frequent hand hygiene. More than you could even be thinking about.”

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