Looking to make healthy children feel safe about getting medical care, a Farmington, Connecticut, pediatric practice has opened a separate clinic dedicated exclusively to patients who may have the coronavirus or another illness.
Having the two offices in separate parts of town should help well children and their parents feel secure about getting checkups, injury care, vaccinations, behavioral health treatment or other service, Dr. Peter Jannuzzi said.
“When patients know there’s not going to be any sickness at the office, they’re going to feel more comfortable. We’re all wearing masks and washing our hands all the time,” said Jannuzzi, a partner in the Unionville Pediatrics practice.
The move to staff separate buildings – one for ill patients, another for well ones — hasn’t become common in Connecticut, but nearly all physicians have started doing business differently since the pandemic began.
To reduce the risk of patients spreading infections to other patients, doctors have tightened schedules to do away with the kind of waiting room crowds that were once typical. Some now require patients to phone from the parking lot before they enter the building, and may instruct them to stay outside briefly if the office area is too busy.
Other practices schedule all patients with illnesses during one part of the day; the American Academy of Pediatrics has suggested early mornings be set aside for healthy patients, with the rest of the day open for illnesses.
It also has advised pediatricians about designating separate exam rooms for healthy children. Riverside Pediatrics in Greenwich took that another step by setting aside exam rooms with separate entrances so that sick children or those getting COVID-19 tests never enter the common areas.
TeleHealth is also a fast-moving trend; Bristol Hospital and others offer phone or online screenings as the first point of contact for potential COVID-19 patients.
But so far, there have been no public reports of other pediatric practices opening a second building so that healthy and sick patients don’t cross paths. Unionville Pediatrics is keeping its Unionville office for appointments with healthy children, and has leased office space about three miles east on Route 4 as its acute care clinic.
Jannuzzi said he hopes that will encourage parents of healthy children to resume regular medical appointments. Visits fell off severely during the height of the pandemic in the late winter and spring; they resumed somewhat in the summer, he said, but some parents are still reluctant to bring in their children.
Having face-to-face contact is important, he said.
“I love to interact with my patients – there’s so much more you can glean from an in-person that you can’t get through TeleHealth,” he said. “You can make them feel more comfortable about why they’re seeing a doctor.”
“It has long been the vision of the practice to separate ill patients from well ones and the onset of COVID-19 has accelerated that process,” Jannuzzi said. “With the second location, we are now able to provide a safe place for sick children to be treated without the risk of infecting other children.
“By seeing only healthy children in our main office, we can ensure that parents have peace of mind while also keeping vaccines up to date and monitoring patient’s growth and development,” he said.
The acute care clinic offers COVID-19 testing for children, a service in high demand because schools are insistent that children with any symptoms stay home until they get a negative test.
“Last year a kid with a runny nose or a little cough would be accepted at school, but now they’re sent home immediately,” he said.
Jannuzzi said TeleHealth remains a useful option for some routine appointments with older children and teens, and even for behavioral health matters if all that’s involved is a check on long-term medication management.
“If it’s just a check-in with a college student who has attention deficit medications but feels pretty good, TeleHealth is good. But if a kid is struggling, is depressed or having anxiety or some other issue, you get a much better sense of them when you can see them (in person),” he said.