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Published on March 24, 2020

ER Doctor on COVID-19 and how you can help

Emergency Rooms and COVID-19

“This is a marathon, and we’re only in the first mile of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Michael Rest, MD, emergency medicine physician and medical director at the Yawkey Emergency Center at Falmouth Hospital.

He says the best things patients can do right now are:

  • Come to the emergency rooms (ERs) ONLY if you are sick with an emergent condition.
  • Only ask your doctor to be tested for COVID-19, if you are exhibiting symptoms.

“We have seen a lot of the ‘worried well’ who want to be tested for COVID-19 just for the sake of being tested,” said Dr. Rest. This only hurts the community by putting a strain on human and physical resources.

“We appreciate that the community is helping us by listening to the messaging the hospital is putting out,” he said, adding that the primary care physicians are also doing a great job home-triaging people so that only critical cases come to the ER.

“We are conserving our resources so that we are available when we are needed,” said Dr. Rest. “We are trying to make sure our staff has minimal contact, so they remain healthy and available when critically ill patients come in. And we are trying to minimize our use of masks and protective equipment by using Facetime to see patients. We’re looking down the road on this marathon to make sure we are available when our community needs us.”

Below are some other important things to know.

  • Use the Emergency Centers (ECs) at Falmouth Hospital and Cape Cod Hospital only when you are truly ill, not for routine medical care.
  • Go directly to the ER (Call 911) if you have chest pain, shortness of breath, and other signs of a heart attack or stroke.
  • Call your primary care physician if you have a health issue but don’t feel like you are in immediate crisis. That’s your new first step. Talk with your doctor by phone to know if you have an emergent condition that needs to be treated immediately at an ER or urgent care center, or if you can be seen at their office.
  • Go to an urgent care center for conditions such as sprained ankles, cuts or urinary tract infections. “Our urgent care centers are always a major resource and are still open,” Dr. Rest said. Cape Cod Healthcare staffs its three available urgent care centers with ER-trained physicians.
  • Call your primary care doctor if you think you have COVID-19. Do not leave your home until you have talked to your doctor. Symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing. Click here for more information about COVID-19 symptoms.
  • If you suspect you have COVID-19 but do not have a primary care physician, call Cape Cod Healthcare’s dedicated call center at 508-862-5595. You will be screened for COVID-19 testing with a Cape Cod Healthcare clinical provider via phone.
  • If your doctor orders a test, an appointment will be given to you for drive-through testing at Cape Cod Community College in West Barnstable.
  • Remember, if you come to the testing tent without a physician’s order and appointment given by Cape Cod Healthcare, you will be turned away. Providers within the Cape Cod Healthcare network are the only ones authorized to order a test at the 4Cs testing site at this time.

“If you test positive for COVID-19 and your vital signs are good, you will go home and self-quarantine in your home for at least 14 days,” said Dr. Rest. “That’s really the best thing to do because there is no prescription or treatment at this time for COVID-19.

“If you test positive for COVID-19 and you require oxygen or show signs of organ failure, we will admit you to the hospital.”

Facetime in the ER

Emergency medicine physicians at Falmouth and Cape Cod Hospitals are now using telemedicine (also called telehealth). Dr. Rest said the federal government recently changed regulations, making this possible.

“Our doctors are doing a lot of virtual exams for the first time,” Dr. Rest explained. Using iPads, ER physicians converse with patients using Facetime, so they don’t have to come in direct contact with patients.

“Sometimes the patient will be in a COVID-19 triage tent with a nurse and I will Facetime them and do an assessment that way. Sometimes the patient will be in an ER room. Instead of visiting that ER room, I’ll do a virtual exam behind the glass. We’ve never done that before,” Dr. Rest said.

All of these changes are designed to preserve human and physical resources with one goal: keeping the community healthy through this pandemic.