COVID-19 impact: Pandemic alters health care landscape in SC

UofSC Today reached out to University of South Carolina School of Medicine Columbia alumni Dr. David Ford and Dr. Cedric Rivers for insight into how COVID-19 has impacted health care in South Carolina, as well as how the state might move forward in upcoming months. Both Ford and Rivers work at hospitals in Columbia, treating patients with COVID-19.

How will COVID-19 change the landscape of health care in our state?

Dr. David Ford: COVID has already made drastic changes to health care in our state, and the trickle effect will continue. Clinicians are now more aware of this disease as they consider what might be causing a patient’s symptoms. As we return to normal life, small clusters of COVID cases will continue to arise. But we are well prepared to treat these patients.

We will be working on helping our patients decrease their COVID risk even more, through monitoring the treatment of their disease, and even more importantly through emphasizing smoking cessation and weight loss.

What did you learn while at UofSC that helped to prepare you for this health crisis?

Dr. Cedric Rivers: The training I received while in medical school and residency helped prepare me to be a resilient front-line worker during this crisis.

During my internal medicine residency, we placed emphasis not only on learning appropriate management of medical conditions, but also on demonstrating empathy.

With the visitor restrictions caused by COVID, empathy becomes even more important as patients were having to fight through this without loved ones at bedside. It can be difficult, because there is no playbook for this disease. I am very grateful for my colleagues as we navigate this challenge and future challenges together.

Health care providers routinely meet patients at the roughest points of their lives, and it is important to show that we do care about them as a whole person.

How might COVID continue to change our day-to-day interactions in the upcoming months?

Ford: I am hoping that Americans will adopt a behavior where, if they wake up in the morning and feel ill, they will put on a mask and try to socially distance themselves. One of my resident physicians used to live in Korea, and she states that this is what they have always done there. Their idea is, “I protect you, and when you are sick, you put on a mask and protect me.”

When we obtain a vaccine, I think that the vast majority of Americans are going to obtain it. If not for themselves (if they are young and healthy), then for those among us who are older or have risk factors for more severe illness from COVID.

What advice would you give to the public for the upcoming months?

Rivers: Although businesses are reopening and we appear to be returning to our normal routine, we must still remain vigilant because the virus is still present. Vaccines are several months away from being available to the public. We must continue to practice social distancing and remember that we can still infect others, even if we are not displaying symptoms.

How do you hope that you have prepared your residents to face this and any upcoming health crises?

Ford: My resident physicians have learned some new skills, such as becoming quite facile at using different types of video laryngoscopy to intubate (put a tube in the trachea to breathe for the patient), while suited up in what amounts to a NASA space suit. We have also learned the best way to treat the patient’s lungs while they are intubated. We’ve also learned that, unlike many very sick, infected patients, we have to be judicious in giving these patients fluids. This is the opposite of what we usually do for very sick, infected patients.

I hope that I have taught my resident physicians to continue to care for their patients as if they were a family member, and I have not been disappointed. They have performed heroically during this COVID crisis, showing empathy as they care for these patients during some of the worst days in the patient’s life.

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