Using Pandemic Lessons to Shape a New Future

Lessons learned during the pandemic could be the foundation for a new primary care paradigm.

Guest post by Dr. Brad Weselman. Image from Getty.

In the past year, COVID-19 has changed the way we practice pediatrics. Many of us are using telemedicine. We all wear personal protective equipment when treating patients. We set up ways to socially distance patients in our offices and clinics. And our hands are raw from constant washing and sanitizing. 

We just want to get back to normal. Or do we?

While pediatricians responded to the pandemic with courage and determination, finding innovative ways to care for children, most practices also saw the numbers of office visits plummet, causing many to furlough staff and/or curtail services. 

We have learned some painful and exhausting lessons in the past year. Maybe we can take advantage of those lessons to steer pediatric care toward a new model in primary care — one based on anticipating and preventing problems instead of reacting to episodes of illness.

For example, one huge challenge for pediatricians during the pandemic has been keeping patients current on vaccinations. Many found ways to reach out to parents to let them know it was safe to bring children into the office for developmental screenings and vaccinations. In my practice and our network, we produced lists of patients who were 2 years old and engaged in a coordinated effort focused on getting their caregivers to bring them into the office. After that, we concentrated on patients in other age groups when vaccinations are due — ages 4, 5, 11 and 16 — with great success.

Decreased volume is an opportunity to fill other care gaps, such behavioral/mental health screenings and to position practices to apply the lessons learned to a post-pandemic world.

We should take advantage of new processes and alliances that have resulted from the pandemic. For example, in the Atlanta area each week, we have a webinar-based community forum moderated by the children’s hospital to share the latest COVID-19 information. Now that changes are happening less rapidly with COVID-19, we can use this forum to talk about other opportunities for forming collaborations, describing practice innovations , and sharing resources.

I am pleased that in December, the American Board of Pediatrics joined six other major medical organizations in calling for a new primary care paradigm, focused on changing the way primary care is delivered and financed. The organizations, convened by The Larry A. Green Center, are calling on the federal government, health care organizations, physicians, and clinician societies to modernize our approach to primary care.

I believe we have a huge opportunity here. Just as a toddler learns better approaches when they become frustrated, so, too, can we learn and move toward better anticipatory and preventive care for our primary care patients.

About the Author

Dr. Brad Weselman

Brad Weselman, MD, is a general pediatrician in private practice in Decatur, GA, and Executive Director of The Children’s Care Network a subsidiary of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. He is a member of the ABP Board of Directors (since 2018), representing the American Academy of Pediatrics. Dr. Weselman began volunteering with the ABP in 2015 as a member of the Continuing Certification Committee. He is also Chair of the Charter and Bylaws Committee (2021-2023). He is board certified and maintaining his certification in General Pediatrics.