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UAB Doctor Pens Open Letter to Patients

By Gaurav Jain

Dear patients:

All is well, says the protagonist of the popular Indian movie “Three Idiots,” with his hand tapping his heart. He finds it comforting, keeps him positive and calm during a critical situation. I have thought about “All is well” often in the last few weeks. COVID-19 has spread quickly, and the U.S. now leads the world in the number of patients per nation.

As expected, we are all concerned, and want to stay informed, especially with the rapid spread of information, both authentic and false, through technology. There is the economic impact of shutdown of non-essential businesses, the social impact of isolation and lack of emotional support associated with social distancing, the burden of child care for those still working, and the medical impact to those who have already contracted the disease.

For many, there is the looming threat of inadequate access to routine medical care and medications, the higher risk of serious illness with COVID-19, and the uncertainty of being able to pay for their medical care. Health care systems are working to care for all patients and prevent the spread of the virus. Now more than ever, we need to keep you informed with relevant and actionable information.

Take Care Of Yourself

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes simple measures that can help take your mind off the disease. Take breaks from news and social media; do not over-engage in keeping up to date. Exercise, meditate and eat healthy; this keeps you occupied and builds up your immunity. Engage in activities you enjoy, such as reading and playing board games, while maintaining social distancing. Stay connected with friends and family via telephone and other digital technology. Stay healthy by washing your hands frequently, avoid touching your face and eyes with unwashed hands, and use a tissue to cough or sneeze, and then dispose of the tissue.

Educate Yourself

Educate yourself from reliable sources such as the CDC; knowing more about the disease helps you understand it better and prevents the spread of rumors. Common symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, cough and shortness of breath. Those over age 65, nursing home residents, patients with obesity, diabetes, heart, kidney or liver disease, and immunosuppressed patients are at a higher risk of complications from COVID-19. However, for most people, the risk of getting seriously ill remains very low. Those who have completed quarantine do not pose a serious risk of infection to the community. Lastly, diseases can affect people of any ethnicity or race, and we need to stand together in this fight against COVID-19.

Social Distancing: Flatten The Curve (figure)

Social distancing entails avoiding interactions between persons within a community. This includes measures such as avoiding gatherings, closing down schools and non-essential businesses, and working from home. These interventions can help flatten the curve, reducing the number of people getting infected at the same time in a community, thereby overwhelming the capacity of the medical system to take care of them. If we slow down and prevent the spread of the virus, we can avoid a peak and manage sicker patients much more effectively. Many patients who are infected may not have symptoms but can still transmit the infection to others, hence the need for everybody to practice social distancing, even if they feel well.

Rescheduled Procedures And Surgeries: For Your Protection, And Best Use Of Resources

Many elective procedures and surgeries are being postponed for your safety and the safety of our health care team. We do not want you to come into the hospitals unless it is absolutely essential, to prevent you from contracting the illness and spreading it to others. And we have a national shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE), including gloves, eye shields, face masks and gowns, which are crucial for caring for our COVID-19 patients.

Telehealth During The COVID-19 Pandemic: To Make Care Available To You, At Your Home

Many clinic visits have been either rescheduled or converted to telehealth visits. With telehealth, the physician can communicate with you on the phone or via a video visit. It allows you to easily access the health care system without having to leave your home and to avoid the health care environment. This allows physicians and other health care workers to provide care to you even when they have limited access to their clinics, or are busy in the hospital taking care of COVID-19 patients.

I would like to end by asking for your cooperation by helping with social distancing, and working with us in this difficult time. This pandemic has brought us together as a community, in sharing our stories, working together and taking measures to care for each other. We, as the health care system, will continue to fight at the frontlines and think about innovative ways to fight this disease, while keeping your health a priority. The message to our patients is very important: We are here for you. We have adjusted our operations to keep you safe, and to maximize the utilization of our resources; but we are here for you. All is (going to be) well.

Gaurav Jain, M.D. is Associate Professor of Nephrology, University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine.

Updated at 9:02 a.m. on 4/16/2020 to correct Dr. Jain’s title.