The doctor’s waiting room in Daleville is filled with leather chairs and plastic toys for children, but no people.
The hardwood floors are spotless, the windows lack fingerprints.
A telephone rings in the distance, “Lawson Family Medicine and Aesthetics,” a nurse answers, before scheduling an appointment.
In the age of COVID, empty waiting rooms are the new norm of a doctor’s office.
Patients no long sit inches part combating a cough, stifling a sneeze, or suppressing the sniffles. During the worst pandemic since the Spanish Flu a century ago, doctors and other medical professionals are turning to technology – some new, some not – to diagnose ailments. At Lawson Family Medicine, medical staff uses modern telemedicine and curbside testing to telephone to see and help patients.
“The pandemic has drastically affected how patients are treated,” said Heather Craft, the practice’s newest nurse practitioner. “We have to roll with the punches and that means rethinking how we see patients.”
Rethinking how to see patients was not an option, she explained. With an airborne virus everyone is suspectable simply by breathing. Medical facilities across the nation, including Lawson Family Medicine, are limiting interaction among people as the best way to stop the spread of COVID-19.
It is not uncommon now to see a health care provider at the practice in Boteoturt Plaza donning personal protection equipment walk out to a waiting vehicle to administer a COVID-19 test. The medical provider places a long cotton topped swab up a patient’s nostril, swirls it around for up to 15 seconds and then repeats on the other nostril. Craft emphasized that curbside service reduces the chances of spreading the virus.
Another means of keeping all healthy is using telemedicine, where medical professionals are in their office and a patient is at home chatting over video. Over the past few years, telemedicine has gain popularity in rural areas, where it is difficult for some populations to visit a doctor.
Craft said some of her patients do not have broadband access, but with a cell phone and cellular service appointments can be held.
“They still need to get medical care,” she said of rural residents. Rural residents across the nation are at risk due to higher number of smokers, age of population, weight issues and more challenges obtaining health care services, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
There are also precautions patients can take. Washing hands, wearing a mask, and practicing social distancing is key. But eating healthy, increasing water consumption and rest can help battle COVID-19, she said, adding studies suggest taking zinc, vitamins C and D and 2 milligrams of melatonin.
As Virginia still struggles to adopt an adequate vaccine distribution and injection plan, Craft said state health officials should consider allowing local doctors and medical professionals jab arms. Currently, the state is overwhelmed by requests for the injection and sites are canceling appointments across Virginia.
“The more [injection] providers could increase the pace,” she said, adding that patients already trust their doctors and health care providers. As of Tuesday, almost 2,000 COVID cases were confirmed in Botetourt County, or about 8 percent of the population. “What [health care providers] need to work on is getting creative on how to arm jab as many people as possible.”
While Virginia entered into an agreement with CVS and Walgreens to administer the vaccine, many areas are miles away from a chain pharmacy. Meanwhile, in West Virginia, the state allowed local pharmacies to administer the vaccine. The Virginia Mercury reported the Mountain State has about 1.4 pharmacies for every nursing home in West Virginia.
Overseeing Lawson Family Medicine is Dr. Lianna Lawson, D.O.
Lawson started the practice about a decade ago after witnessing a get-patients-in-and-out mentality at other medical facilities. “I like to spend time with my patients,” she said. “I want them to know they aren’t just a number here.”
Spending enough time to listen to their medical histories and concerns is paramount to her manner of care. It’s the way three very influential doctors in her life practices, Drs. Crow and Clarke Andrews, who practiced in Botetourt County, and Dr. Woods in Waynesboro.
“I would describe them all as good family doctors, country doctors, who developed relationships with their patients,” she said.
The West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine graduate said that from childhood she wanted to be a physician. “I want to help people and build relationships,” she said.