By Alexander Germanis
Nearly 400 years ago, English poet John Milton introduced the phrase “silver lining” into the lexicon of the Western world. It has since become used in one of the most common expressions of the modern age: Every cloud has a silver lining.
Admittedly, this notion that every negative situation can have some positive aspect has been a difficult one to accept in the last year. But the Podiatrists at Heartland Foot and Ankle Associates in Bloomington have searched for and found the positive nonetheless.
Another term coined, albeit far more recently, is that of “social distancing.” Keeping our distance from one another has simply become a necessity in order to stay safe and healthy. But the medical profession is, understandably, an up close and personal one. For Dr. Melissa Lockwood, Founder of Heartland Foot and Ankle, keeping a safe distance was the first and most important aspect of their practice they needed to reconsider.
“The biggest change we’ve made is with our staffing,” she explains. “We’re protecting our staff during these uncertain times in the sense that we’ve split into two teams. We did this earlier in the pandemic during tier one and tier two. We had two separate teams running.”
In fact, there are no more than four members of the staff at the Heartland office at any one time: one doctor and two to three supporting staff.
Dr. Lockwood’s partner, Dr. Zain Rizvi, picks up: “The rest of the team is working from home; they’re still picking up calls, doing insurance paperwork, checking people in, calling them after their appointments. The full staff is still working their same hours. We’ve adapted in that sense. So there’s either myself or Dr. Lockwood in clinic and three other people—every day.”
Separating the staff was only half the challenge of course. Keeping patients safe was of vital importance. The first step was by creating a new waiting area. “It’s essentially the parking lot in the patient’s car,” says Dr. Rizvi. The patient calls or texts the Heartland phone number, informing the staff they have arrived. One of the team members then brings the patient inside, takes their temperature, and leads them to one of the four exam rooms. “They have no interaction with any other patient,” he adds. “During checkout, we make sure there’s no other patient at the front desk. Everything is really spread out.”
A wellness questionnaire is also administered to each patient either electronically the day before an appointment or in their car the day of their appointment.
Numerous recent infrastructure changes have also helped make Heartland a safer healthcare provider in the community.
In the first few weeks of the virus hitting American shores, Drs. Lockwood and Rizvi quickly searched for ways they could embrace technology to communicate with their patients and the public.
Looking to national companies like Delta Airlines and local restaurants like Ancho and Agave as examples, the doctors put existing technology to work for Heartland.
Delta was contacting their customers with emails to inform them of what steps were being taken to keep them safe. Restaurants were setting up contactless food orders and pick-ups.
“I said to [my husband and Practice Administrator/CFO] Scott, and Dr. Rizvi, ‘We’ve got to figure out how to do that,’” Dr. Lockwood shares. “Patients need to feel safe coming in here, so we had to figure out how to successfully do as many telemedicine follow-ups as possible. So we did a video for our patients on how easy it is to do telemedicine and another video teaching them how to use Zoom or a secure site we use called Doxy.me.”
Integrating a new communication service into the practice has allowed the team at Heartland to enhance their already superb customer service. Scott comments “Weave has hands down been the best thing for our office this year. Patients love the access and ease of use when communicating with us and our team loves being able to streamline work processes – including faxes, patient statements, reviews, and the wellness forms. It has enabled us to become a fully ‘mobile’ practice!”.
Naturally, a practice now so heavily reliant on technology is at risk should that technology fail. Fortunately, the doctors have plans in place for that as well.
“Electronically speaking, we’ve got backups upon backups upon backups,” Dr. Lockwood assures. “We’ve got two different Internet service providers for the office, so if one goes down we can get the other working. And on my cell phone plan I have a significant bandwidth to be able to do a hotspot on my phone for up to three computers. So, we’ve got short term options for such a disaster.”
Pulling More Than Their Weight
The doctors are more than happy to point out that Heartland has managed as well as it has thanks to the tireless efforts of their staff and their patients.
“Patients have been great in terms of calling and letting us know they might have been exposed and following up with us to tell us the test was negative,” Dr. Rizvi says. “That has happened so many times and luckily all of those patients have come back negative. So the patients have taken precautions, which we appreciate.”
“Plus they have been really respectful about wearing masks,” Dr. Lockwood adds.
As for the Heartland team, the doctors also can’t say enough good things about them. “Our team is amazing,” Dr. Lockwood beams. “We’ve got a young team—early 20s most of them—and so many of them say, ‘I don’t want to go anywhere because I want to protect my patients and my coworkers.’ We’re very blessed with our team.”
“And they’re smart,” Dr. Rizvi puts in. “We appreciate them even more now.”
Start the Year Right
Perhaps the greatest irony to come from this last year is that people are so concerned about getting sick that they end up ignoring other facets of their health.
“For nine months now we’ve seen a trend that no one is wearing shoes in their homes,” Dr. Lockwood says. This seemingly innocuous choice can have negative consequences.
“Most people are home all day now, working from home, and a lot are coming in complaining of foot pain. A lot of the time it’s that they’re not wearing shoes and they don’t have that support,” Dr. Rizvi explains. “That’s a lot of pressure on your feet all day, every day. Even if the patient doesn’t have any foot pain and is overall pretty healthy, they should still be wearing shoes.”
When wearing shoes, the doctors add, you should also be wearing your orthotics.
Ingrown toenails, stress fractures, and even foot wounds have also been on the increase this year. This is due mainly to that fact many people have been hesitant to get their regular health checkups or go see a doctor with their problems out of fear of getting sick.
“Patients waiting on their healthcare—waiting to be seen for things they consider routine—are developing other types of problems,” adds Dr. Lockwood. Ingrown toenails can get infected. Diabetics are at particular risk of getting foot sores if they put off getting checked.
“Patients need to make sure they’re still going and getting their routine visits,” she continues. “And I think every medical specialist would agree with that. People are putting off taking care of themselves when they should be focusing on it. It’s a new year, new you. If you’ve been having pain, don’t wait anymore.”
Bright Shining Silver
While the last year may have been a great gray cloud, Heartland Foot and Ankle Associates created their own silver lining by looking to their community, their patients, and even other businesses for help. They are thrilled to share that silver lining’s brilliance by making Heartland a safer place to visit.
Nevertheless, the doctors are grateful for the last year. “We learned a lot and, at least in a small business sense, really good lessons as providers in a specialty field in healthcare,” Dr. Lockwood concludes. “It has really let us see how we can streamline things and that’s what we’ve done. 2021 is a bright new year.”
If you are having any foot or ankle problems, contact Dr. Lockwood and Dr. Rivzi at Heartland Foot and Ankle Associates, 309-661-9975 or visit their website at www.HeartlandFootAndAnkle.com. Their office is located at 10 Heartland Dr. Suite B in Bloomington.