It’s Friday morning and for the first time in a while Dr. Suzanne McKell has no patients to see today. McKell, who is a primary care physician, opened her own practice, DBA Half Moon Bay Medical, about a year ago.
“I am the personalized, old-fashioned doctor type,” she said. “I still do house calls and I call people back anytime of the day or night. I get to know my patients as people — not just their diagnoses.”
When the news first got out about COVID-19 spreading in China, McKell said she began receiving calls from patients inquiring if something like that could happen here. But, as the crisis became a global pandemic and the state issued orders to shelter in place, the calls quickly changed tone. Now her patents want to know what to do and how they can be tested.
McKell said patients are canceling appointments and opting to stay home rather than come in for routine or minor check-ups out of fear of catching the virus.
Typically, McKell will see 14 patients a day, but these days she is only seeing six or seven.
“My schedule has been a lot lighter,” she said. “I am doing a lot more on the phone and a lot of calming people’s fears about getting it.”
Diagnosing patients over the phone has its limitations.
“You can’t look at a person’s lungs over the phone,” McKell said. “Telemedicine is not real medicine, in my opinion, but it is what we have to do to make do.”
For the patients that do come to her office, she’s adopted new protocols in the wake of the coronavirus. Patients must enter in the rear of the office, stand back six feet and answer a few questions on their health before entering. Patients will be given a mask before entering and led straight to the exam room, not the waiting room.
McKell shares the frustration of many in her profession over the lack of testing kits, saying, “Everyone who wants a test should be tested.”
Currently, there are only a few testing sites in the county. She’s even struggling to get the proper equipment, such as face masks for herself and her staff.
And McKell is a small businesswoman too. Like many on the coast, she is worried about her livelihood.
“Being a brand-new business that’s just been open for a year, my whole life is put into this business,” she said. “I am not paying myself, so I know my staff will get paid.”
McKell says she is flooded with inquiries from patients wanting to know about “so-called” myths related to the coronavirus. They include the notion that sucking on pennies or coins will provide zinc to ward of the virus or wearing or eating garlic will cure a case.
“People are stuck at home, trolling the internet and finding information that has no credible source,” she said.
Though it’s not uncommon for people to self-diagnose or rely on misinformation, McKell said the latest global health emergency is “10 times worse” in terms of distorted facts.
To combat the hysteria, McKell said she regularly answers people’s emails and phone calls and does her part to relay the most accurate information.
Her advice to her patients is to be optimistic, stay calm, wash your hands and for now practice social distancing.