Telemedicine has become commonplace in the healthcare industry since the coronavirus outbreak. As offices across the country have closed indefinitely, doctors resort to treating ill patients through phone calls, emails, texts and facetime.
In the midst of testing kit shortages, company layoffs and unclear guidelines of exactly what to expect when states and businesses reopen, doctors are doing all they can to protect themselves while helping their patients.
Somerset, New Jersey family physician Dr. Euton Laing has quickly adapted. He began the at-home practice after closing his office on March 22, a day after New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy implemented stay-at-home orders.
Laing explained telemedicine has made him busier, as he now operates alone, caring for patients through telephone and only going into the office if a patient needs to be tested for the virus.
“I chose to close my practice generally, away from any acute things that I’ve been doing. I’ve had to lay off my staff because I didn’t think I would be able to survive and supply them, so I chose that route instead of trying to hold them and take a loan to pay for their salaries when nothing is coming in,” Laing told Scriberr News.
However, a lack of testing has slowed his ability to quickly diagnose patients, as medical labs ration out tests due to scarcity and high demand, he said.
Laing has not had access to a “big portion of the testing equipment” and explained he only receives five nasal test swabs at a time. The nasal swabs are considered the gold standard for accurate test results. Of the 10 people Laing was able to, 15 percent had the virus.
“So I direct people to the testing stations if they have any acute symptoms. My testing has been more for people who have been exposed and may have mild, secondary symptoms,” said Laing.
Although the list of coronavirus symptoms grows as more research comes out, Laing has seen typical symptoms in patients ages 30 and over, which include fever, body aches and a dry cough. In some cases, the loss of taste and smell and diarrhea exist as well.
Another pattern he has seen is the amount of diagnoses in patients among specific groups of essential workers, from bus drivers and warehouse workers, to nurses and fellow doctors. People who are exposed to others on a daily basis are more likely to catch the virus.
Treatments vary depending on symptoms, but Laing prescribed antibiotics for a majority of patients with non-life-threatening symptoms that lean towards being bronchitic, rather than coronavirus-related. Only one seriously ill patient needed hydroxychloroquine and was carefully tended to.
For more acute symptoms like immediate shortness of breath, patients have been steered to hospitals, where they can be promptly tested and treated with supportive care if needed.
Many doctors knew of the virus’ potential trajectory in America due to reports, so Laing braced himself and adhered to distancing rules by not only closing his office, but also by suspending his pastoral church duties.
“I try to look for news that is reliable. Once we heard enough information from China and Europe, I knew it would be bad. As a pastor, I heeded the warnings and stopped having services,” Laing said.
Six members of his church tested positive for the virus, with a few being asymptomatic. “Had we not closed, the potential for an asymptomatic spread would have been there,” he added.
“Being a ‘preacher doctor’, I think in both realms. When I came back from a trip to Liberia the first week of lockdown, I communicated with my church and told them to close.”
One difficult aspect of virtual services is the inability to physically connect with the members of the church Laing preaches to. Being a group that enjoys embracing one another, some members suffer from the social separation.
As victims succumb to the virus, remaining family members suffer emotionally, unable to properly bury their loved ones. Laing is creating online programs dedicated to helping those families, by reaching out and letting them know that they can talk to him for guidance and support, even if he cannot be there physically.
Although Laing would like to get back to his congregation, he still advocates for continual social distancing and protective measures, fearing a second wave. He feels that conflicting strategies are being sent from New Jersey’s government, guidelines are not being followed, and the restless are abandoning social distancing.
Until consistent guidelines are put in place, Laing is doing everything he can to stay safe in and out of the office.
Wearing masks, gloves, and medical gowns when handling patients, minimal contact and proper handwashing are some of the measures he has persistently taken. After spending any time out of isolation, he showers immediately upon entering his home to protect those he lives with.
“I think that kind of vigilance is what is needed everywhere,” said Laing. “I just really wish the healthcare system and government would be on the same page, making the same recommendations. We would gain more control over it and be able move ahead.”
To reach Dr. Laing, visit pfpfamilies.com or preacherdoc.com