Editor’s Note: Dr. Amy Lang is Alexandra Lang’s mother.
Medical professionals are doing all they can to protect their patients, their families and themselves during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr. Amy Lang is an oncologist specializing in breast cancer at the START Center for Cancer Care in San Antonio, Texas. She said she and her colleagues have taken several steps to mitigate the risk of the virus coming into their office.
They recently started wearing masks on duty and are practicing extra careful hygiene.
She said medical assistants call patients before their appointments and “screen” anyone who is entering the building to make sure they don’t have the virus.
“They [look for] any signs of illness, [ask if they] traveled outside of the city, [check for] exposure to someone who has tested positive or is suspected to test positive for COVID-19,” she said. “If they have any of those features, they don’t come, and they have to stay away from the building for ten days.”
Lang’s office also decided any visitors a patient might bring with them to their appointment must stay in the lobby, except for significant others, and no children are allowed in the building.
“It’s tough, because for new patients who are scared, sometimes you bring someone with you to hear what’s being said and to ease your pain and anxiety,” Lang said. “We have made exceptions to that rule—I’m allowing significant others and adult children to come with my new patients to the first visit.”
Lang said one challenge arises when patients who are undergoing cycles of chemotherapy call and say they have a fever or cough, symptoms that might have nothing to do with the coronavirus but are very common among their patients.
“We have to go through a whole checklist to figure out whether they should go to the ER, to [San Antonio Metropolitan Health] to get tested for the virus or come into the office,” she said. “There’s a big responsibility on the doctors to listen carefully and ask questions to help figure out what category these symptoms fall into.”
When Texas Governor Greg Abbott declared a state of disaster due to the virus, he temporarily lifted the restrictions on telemedicine, which allows doctors to see patients through video chats or phone calls.
Lang said the transition to telemedicine has been difficult for both doctors and patients.
“There’s been a huge learning curve on our part and on the patient’s part, especially with a lot of older patients,” she said.
Lang’s patients who have annual checkups, such as those who are in remission, are having their appointments delayed up to several months.
Some of Lang’s patients were scheduled to have breast cancer surgery, but those procedures will be postponed according to guidance from the American College of Surgeons.
“They put out very strict guidelines for who gets to have surgery in the next few weeks because they want ventilators and beds available for COVID patients,” she said.
Lang is scheduled to be on call soon, which used to include visiting patients in various hospitals. Now, she and her colleagues will be relying on hospitalists.
“We are not going to ask the on-call doctor to see many patients,” she said. “We will only go in if it’s truly necessary, and we can do telemedicine visits with hospital patients, too.”
The best thing for the general public to do to protect themselves right now, Lang said, is to practice good hygiene.
“The number one thing is: don’t touch your face without washing your hands,” she said. “There’s no one thing that is more effective than that.”
To date, there are 103,321 cases of the coronavirus in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There are 2,052 cases reported in Texas, according to the Texas Tribune.