In Idaho, Sick Kids Visit the 'Camping Doctor'

Bottom line: Pediatricians are resourceful and innovative, especially during COVID-19.

In Idaho, the infection rate for COVID-19 hasn’t been as high as in other parts of the country (2500+ cases, 75+ deaths), but fear of infection still worries parents and caregivers there all the same. 

“We haven’t been hit like other locations, for sure,” Steve Smith, MD, one of two general pediatricians at Thrive Pediatrics in Meridian, ID, tells us. “But a lot of us were still incredibly nervous.”

Nearby Blaine County — home of Sun Valley ski resort and other tourist attractions — has been hit harder by COVID-19 than any other place in Idaho. When the hospital there had to suspend usual operations, some patients were transferred to Treasure Valley (where Meridian is located) for treatment. 

“Another virus was going around then, too,” Dr. Smith says. “We tested 20 to 30 acutely ill patients. Some had (seasonal) flu, some had RSV (respiratory syncytial virus).”

Even without seeing any COVID-19 patients, he tells us, the pandemic was impacting the local community and the health care providers. As COVID-19 began to worry their patients and the pandemic began to impact their community, Thrive Pediatrics recognized the need to adapt. 

“Our office is on the second floor,” Dr. Smith says. Sick patients and well patients were using the same small elevator. “We saw a need to keep the germs downstairs.”

Dr. Smith with a patient in the officeDisinfecting the office was not enough. Thrive decided to set up a full clinic in a tent in the parking lot to see and treat sick patients, leaving the second-floor office for well-visits. Staff now screen patients via telephone before any sick child visits, and the practice has started using telemedicine since the crisis first began.

“The last thing we wanted was for these children to be seen in the ER,” where the chance of exposure to COVID-19 and other illnesses could be greater, Dr. Smith says. 

The practice initially had parents drive up to the clinic so the children could be seen without getting out of the car. Someone brought a canopy, but the Idaho winds were too much to keep it in place. 

One day, the practice’s other pediatrician, Dr. Brandon Taylor, brought in a tent. That one has since been replaced with a larger tent. Although nurse practitioner Bryana Hinck spends the most time seeing sick patients in the tent, Dr. Smith and Dr. Taylor also take turns assessing and treating sick children there — one patient at a time. The tent is close to a staircase that leads to the second floor just in case a patient needs to be seen inside or the weather gets bad. The office has created a secluded sick room in the second-floor office for visits if necessary. Meanwhile, Dr. Smith and Dr. Taylor are assessing well infants and children in the clinic and conducting telemedicine calls.

“It’s nice to be able to offer an option other than a big hospital environment,” Dr. Smith says. “The patients love it. They say they are visiting the ’camping doctor.’”

About the Author

Keith J. Mann, MD, MEd

Keith J. Mann, MD, MEd, is Vice President for Continuing Certification at the American Board of Pediatrics (ABP). As lead of continuing certification (also known as Maintenance of Certification or MOC), his focus is on evolving the program to be increasingly relevant and valuable for pediatricians while upholding the high standards of being a certified pediatrician or pediatric subspecialist. He provides expertise in education, health care quality, and patient safety. Before joining the ABP leadership in 2018, he volunteered on various ABP committees for 15 years. He is certified in general pediatrics and is maintaining his certification. 

Top photo: Nurse practitioner Bryana Hinck checks a patient in the sick-child tent.

Middle photo: Dr. Steve Smith (center) assesses a child during a well visit.