The second wave is here. How do healthcare providers prepare for it?

The cold weather is fastly approaching, and children have returned to school. It seems not too long ago that we entered phase 3 and were finally able to have the opportunity to return to normalcy.

However, cases continue to rise in Ontario, Canada, with an average of 335 new confirmed COVID-19 infections daily. Last Friday, 401 recent daily reports of COVID-19 had been recorded, making the number the highest single-day increase since June 7 with 415 cases.  Premier Doug Ford says starting today for Toronto, Peel Region, and Ottawa that only 10 people will be allowed to gather indoors while the number for outdoor gatherings will drop from 100 to 25. If we've learned one thing from other countries, there will be a second wave, which leaves us thinking another dreadful lockdown is looming!

Several factors will continue to impact a second wave's emergence. The most prominent are school reopening and socializing, which will require diligent and proactive measures from our community and government leaders.

School reopening has been a much-debated topic of discussion in the news. School officials, teachers, parents, and government officials all have been planning and implementing health and safety protocols to ensure schools reopened this September. Some parents have opted for their children to study from home, while some send their children back with sheer feelings of anxiety. Regardless, we must ask ourselves, do young children understand the importance of social distancing, wearing masks, and thorough hygiene? And are the protocols going to be enough to control the case numbers?

Winter could look more complicated with new challenges and uncertainty. Social gatherings outside and on patios will no longer be an option. Unlike the summer, when people choose to walk or bike, cold temperatures will naturally draw people into tight public transportation spaces. With cold temperatures, many will most likely not spend their time outdoors. Instead, they will choose to exercise inside gyms and congregate indoors instead of their backyard or parks. Patios will no longer be open and increase restaurant dining. To keep indoor spaces safe, we must resort to the tried and proven protocols that we know to be effective - hand hygiene, mask-wearing, and physical distancing. The population will need to increase their willingness to participate in frequent COVID-19 check-ups while eagerly waiting to see if Health Canada will improve at-home testing kits to make testing more accessible. The Government of Canada strongly recommends that people download the COVID Alert app to notify someone you've come into contact with later positive tests.

What to do about your practice?

Many health providers have started to reopen their doors for in-person visits - albeit with all precautions. Health providers should reflect on what they've learned through the peak of COVID-19 to be prepared for a second wave. Your telehealth option should be compliant with HIPAA, PHIPA, PIPEDA, and end-to-end encryption to ensure patients' privacy. It should also offer powerful practice management features like HD video, online appointment booking, SOAP notes, invoicing, and other essential features to enhance patient engagement.

As statistics showed, the use of telehealth was in the stratosphere during COVID-19. In the United States alone, virtual visits are estimated to reach 1 billion dollars this year. Here at Adracare, we helped power a few hundred virtual sessions a month to 80,000 a month. To many, while their office doors were closed, it was the only way that a provider could connect and give their patients quality care. And if we learned anything from the first wave, telehealth can provide quality care equivalent to in-person care.

Undoubtedly, telehealth has advanced so much within the last six months and continues to be an essential component of the current healthcare system. But health providers must continue to promote telehealth and ensure that they're accessible to their patients by all means. I implore every health provider to question the assumption that we must return to the status quo - care must be delivered in-person. Next time you book an appointment for a patient, ask yourself - can this be done virtually?