Leading local medical experts share how to stay healthy during a pandemic

On August 26, Dr. Jay R. Zdunek, Chief Medical Officer (CMO) of Austin Regional Clinic, along with other Austin area hospital CMOs, and moderator Dr. Clay Johnston, Dean of the Dell Medical School, participated in a one-hour webinar about best practices on seeking healthcare during the COVID-19 pandemic. Joining Dr. Zdunek and moderator Dr. Johnston on this Austin Chamber event were Dr. Samson Jesudass MBA, CCO at Ascension Texas, Dr. Rob Watson, CMO at Baylor Scott and White Health, and Dr. Kenneth Mitchell, Senior Vice President & CMO at St. David’s HealthCare.

Discussions included:

  • How the healthcare system in Austin dealt with the initial phases of the COVID-19 pandemic; and it is readying for the future possible spikes in COVID-19
  • The impact of patients not seeking preventive healthcare during the first months of the pandemic
  • The safety of patients and staff in seeking medical care
  • Telemedicine and other ways the public can interact with the health system moving forward

Offering healthcare safely

As the CMO of ARC as well as a practicing family medicine physician at ARC Far West, Dr. Zdunek was able to offer a different viewpoint than the other panelists, who all come from hospital settings. Dr. Zdunek said, when addressing the early months of the pandemic, “Our role was a bit different than that of the hospitals. There were three critical things that we believed that were important for us; to serve the population safely, to keep our patient population out of the ERs, and to continue being able to treat chronic health issues as those don’t stop because there happens to be a pandemic.”

Preventive visits are critical

When discussing the impact that the pandemic has had on patients seeking healthcare for other issues, Dr. Zdunek, said that ARC has seen is a decrease in preventive visits. Dr. Zdunek illustrated, saying, “We have a large Medicare patient population, and one of the things that Medicare requires is an annual wellness visit. We have seen a 60% decrease over last year in our Medicare Wellness Visits.” Dr. Zdunek added that pediatric wellness visits are also down because parents are skeptical about bringing in their children. He said, “We assure you that we are taking every step that we possibly can to ensure the safety of your family for preventive care.”

All of the webinar participants agreed that the negative effects of patients putting off seeking treatment have far-reaching consequences, both in the patients’ health and the ability of physicians to treat their conditions in a later stage.

Telemedicine

In discussing how the pandemic has changed the delivery of healthcare, Dr. Zdunek highlighted telemedicine, saying, “I believe the toothpaste is out of the tube and it’s never going back in!” Dr. Zdunek continued, saying that telemedicine visits are easy, efficient, and effective in many cases. But, he added, “I don’t think we’ll ever be able to replace the information that comes from a thorough exam of a patient by a physician.”

Dr. Zdunek implored the community to let Congress know how important it is to make telemedicine a permanent part of the healthcare system.

Austin Chamber of Commerce President and CEO, Laura Huffman concluded the seminar by thanking these leaders of our healthcare systems for “working together to prioritize community care over market share.”

If you would like to view the complete webinar, you can do so here.

Tags: COVID-19, Austin Chamber of Commerce

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