Tag Archives: patient

Free COVID-19 Testing Available at AACI

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disproportionately impact our community, AACI’s Health Center remains committed to providing much needed resources during this time.

At AACI’s Story Road location will be providing No-Charge COVID-19 Testing for members of the community. Feel share this resource with your own networks and those in need.

No doctor’s note is required and we will serve everyone regardless of insurance or immigration status. Testing is only available to individuals without symptoms at this community testing event. We recommend that anyone experiencing symptoms see their own doctors.

If someone does not already have a doctor, AACI’s Health Center is accepting new patients.  Please call (408) 975-2763 for more information.

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Using Patient Stories To Mentally Survive As A COVID-19 Clinician

Dr. Christopher Travis, an intern in obstetrics-gynecology, has cared for patients with COVID-19 and performed surgery on women suspected of having the coronavirus. But the patient who arrived for a routine prenatal visit in two masks and gloves had a problem that wasn’t physiological.

“She told me, ‘I’m terrified I’m going to get this virus that’s spreading all over the world,’” and worried it would hurt her baby, he said of the March encounter.

Travis, who practices at the Los Angeles County + University of Southern California Medical Center, told the woman he knew she was scared and tried to assure her she was safe and could trust him.

Asking many questions and carefully listening to the answers, Travis was exercising the craft of narrative medicine, a discipline in which clinicians use the principles of art and literature to better understand and incorporate patients’ stories into their practices.

“How do we do that really difficult work during the pandemic without it consuming us so we can come out ‘whole’ on the other end?” Travis said. Narrative medicine, which he studied at Columbia University, has helped him be aware of his own feelings, reflect more before reacting, and view challenging situations calmly, he said.

The first graduate program in narrative medicine was created at Columbia University in 2009 by Dr. Rita Charon, and the practice has gained wide influence since, as evidenced by the dozens of narrative medicine essays published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and its sister journals.

Learning to be storytellers also helps clinicians communicate better with non-professionals, said writer and geriatrician Dr. Louise Aronson, who directs the medical humanities program at the University of California-San Francisco. It may be useful to reassure patients — or to motivate them to follow public health recommendations. “Tell them a story about having to intubate a previously healthy 22-year-old who’s going to die and leave behind his first child and new wife, and then you have their attention.”

“At the same time, telling that story can help the health professional process their own trauma and get the support they need to keep going,” she said.

Teaching Storytelling To Doctors

This fall, Keck School of Medicine of USC will offer the country’s second master’s program in narrative medicine, and the subject also will be part of the curriculum in the new Kaiser Permanente Bernard J. Tyson School of Medicine in Pasadena, which opens its doors July 27 with its first class of 48 students. (KHN, which produces California Healthline, is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.)

Narrative medicine trains physicians to care about patients’ singular, lived experiences — how illness is really affecting them, said Dr. Deepthiman Gowda, assistant dean for medical education at the new Kaiser Permanente school. The training may entail a close group reading of creative works such as poetry or literature, or watching dance or a film, or listening to music.

He said there’s also “real, intrinsic value” for patients because a doctor isn’t only being trained to care about the body and medications.

“Literature in its nature is a dive into the experience of living — the triumphs, the joys, the suffering, the anxieties, the tragedies, the confusions, the guilt, the ecstasies of being human, of being alive,” Gowda said. “This is the training our students need if they wish to care for persons and not diseases.”

Dr. Andre Lijoi, a geriatrician at WellSpan York Hospital in Pennsylvania, recently led a virtual session for 20 front-line nurse practitioners who work in nursing homes. Two volunteers recited Mary Oliver’s 1986 poem “Wild Geese,” which reads, “Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine. Meanwhile the world goes on.”

Sharing the poet’s words helped the nurses relieve their pent-up tensions, enabling them to express their feelings about life and work under COVID-19, Lijoi said.

One participant wrote, “As the world goes on around me I mourn seeing my aging parents, planning my daughter’s wedding, and missing my great niece’s baptism. I wonder, when will life be ‘normal’ again?”

Processing Fear To Provide Better Care

Dr. Naomi Rosenberg, an emergency room physician at Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia, studied narrative medicine at Columbia and teaches it at Temple’s Lewis Katz School of Medicine. The discipline helps her “metabolize” what she takes in while caring for COVID-19 patients, including the fear that comes with having to enter patients’ rooms alone in protective gear, she said.

The training helped her counsel a worried woman who couldn’t visit her sister because the hospital, like others around the country, wasn’t allowing relatives to visit COVID-19-infected patients.

“I’d read stories of Baldwin, Hemingway and Steinbeck about what it feels like to be afraid for someone you love, and recalling those helped me communicate with her with more clarity and compassion,” Rosenberg said. (After a four-day crisis, the sister recovered.)

Dr. Pamela Schaff (right) discusses narrative medicine in the Hoyt Gallery at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California, as Chioma Moneme, a student in the class of 2020, looks on. (Credit: Chris Shinn)

Close readings can also help students understand the various ways metaphor is used in the medical profession, for good or ill, said Dr. Pamela Schaff, who directs the Keck School’s new master’s program in narrative medicine.

Recently, Schaff led third-year medical students through a critical examination of a journal article that described medicine as a battlefield. The analysis helped student Andrew Tran understand that describing physicians as “warriors” could “promote unrealistic expectations and even depersonalization of us as human beings,” he said.

Something similar happens in the militarized language used to describe cancer, he added: “We say, ‘You’ve got to fight,’ which implies that if you die, you’re somehow a failure.”

In the real world, doctors are often focused narrowly, devoting most of their attention to a patient’s chief complaint. They listen to patients on average for only 11 seconds before interrupting them, according to a 2018 study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine. Narrative medicine seeks to change that.

While listening more carefully may add one more item to a physician’s lengthy “to-do” list, it could also save time in the end, Schaff said.

“If we train physicians to listen well, for metaphor, subtext and more, they can absorb and act on their patients’ stories even if they have limited time,” she said. “Also, we physicians must harness our narrative competence to demand changes in the health care system. Health systems should not mandate 10-minute encounters.”

Telling The Patient’s Whole Story

In practice, narrative medicine has diverse applications. Modern electronic health records, with their templates and prefilled sections, can hamper a doctor’s ability to create meaningful notes, Gowda said. But doctors can counter that by writing notes in language that makes the patient’s struggles come alive, he said.

The school’s curriculum will incorporate a different patient story each week to frame students’ learning. “Instead of, ‘This week, you will learn about stomach cancer,’ we say, ‘This week, we want you to meet Mr. Cardenas,’” Gowda said. “We learn about who he is, his family, his situation, his symptoms, his concerns. We want students to connect medical knowledge with the complexity and sometimes messiness of people’s stories and contexts.”

In preparation for the school’s opening, Gowda and a colleague have been running Friday lunchtime mindfulness and narrative medicine sessions for faculty and staff.

The meetings might include a collective, silent examination of a piece of art, followed by a discussion and shared feelings, said Dr. Marla Law Abrolat, a Permanente Medicine pediatrician in San Bernardino, California, and a faculty director at the new school.

“Young people come to medicine with bright eyes and want to help, then a traditional medical education beats that out of them,” Abrolat said. “We want them to remember patients’ stories that will always be a part of who they are when they leave here.”

This story was produced by Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent program of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

A Physician’s Story from the Frontlines

I have been an Emergency Medicine Physician for almost 20 years. I have worked through numerous disasters, and I’m used to the daily grind of heart attacks, gunshots, strokes, flu, traumas, and more. It’s par for the course in my field. Yet nothing has made me feel the way I do about my “job” as this pandemic has—that knot-in-the-pit–of-your-stomach sensation while heading into work, comforted only by the empathetic faces of my colleagues who are going through the same. I am grateful for their presence, knowing they are both literally and figuratively with me, that they understand and accept so profoundly the risks we take each day. I also hope that my friends and family forgive me for my lack of presence during this time—precisely when we need each other most—and that they realize that their words, their encouragement, and their small gestures that come my way daily are the fuel that gets me through each day. This is a story for all of us.

I met my patient, Mr. C., on my first real “pandemic” shift, when what we were seeing that day was what we had been preparing for. He was classic in his presentation, his X-ray findings, his low oxygen levels… we just knew. And he was the nicest man I had met in a long time. Gasping for breath, he kept asking if we needed anything, and that it would all be okay. He told us he was a teacher but that he was learning so much from us, and how much he respected what we were doing. The opposite could not be more true.

We had to decide how long we would try to let him work through this low oxygen state before needing to intubate him. His levels kept falling and despite all our best efforts it was time to put him on the ventilator. He told us he didn’t feel great about this, “but Doc, I trust you and am putting myself in your hands.” That uneasy feeling in my stomach grew even more in that moment. But he, with his teacher’s steady voice, kept me grounded, where I was supposed to be. I saw his eyes looking at me, seeing the kindness in them, even as we pushed the medications to put him to sleep. To say this was an “easy” intubation is an understatement. It was not. He nearly left us a few times during those first minutes, but he kept coming back. We fought hard to keep him with us. The patience and strength of my team that day, truly remarkable.

I handed him over to my friend and colleague, Dr. Ginsburg, and her team in the ICU, and her calming voice reassured me that they had it from here. And then for the next twelve days, I waited and watched his progress, knowing the statistics, and how sick he was when he got to us. They did their magic, and just yesterday my new friend Mr. C was extubated. I decided to go “meet” him again.

Mr C. was in the COVID stepdown unit, recovering, without family. Nobody was allowed to visit him; even worse, his wife had been home alone in isolation for the past fourteen days, too. My heart broke thinking of how that must have been for her. I cautiously went into his room, donned in my PPE, and when he saw me, he stopped for a second. A moment of recognition.

I introduced myself. “I’m Dr. Akbarnia, Mr. C. I was the last person you saw in the ER. You told me you trusted us to get you to this side. Looks like you did just fine.” He started to cry. He said, “I remember your eyes.” And I started to cry. What he didn’t know is that, at that moment, I realized that we do what we do exactly for people like him, for moments like these. His strength, his kindness, his calming words to me meant everything. At that moment, my heart (which had been beating over 100 bpm since this pandemic began) finally slowed down.

I sat down and we talked. I told him that while he is here, we are his family. He will always have a place in my heart. And whether he knows it or not, he will be my silent warrior and guide as I take care of every patient, COVID or not. He will fuel me until the day I hang up my stethoscope.

Dr. Akbarnia has been an ER physician for 20 years.

(Picture and story posted with full permission from patient)

Why Does COVID-19 Testing Take So Long?

After a slow start, testing for COVID-19 has ramped up in recent weeks, with giant commercial labs jumping into the effort, drive-up testing sites established in some places and new products approved under emergency rules set by the Food and Drug Administration.

But even for people who are able to get tested (and there’s still a big lag in testing ability in hot spots across the U.S.), there can be a frustratingly long wait for results — not just hours, but often days. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) didn’t get his positive test results for six days and is now being criticized for not self-quarantining during that time.

We asked experts to help explain why the turn-around time for results can vary widely — from hours to days or even a week — and how that might be changing.

It’s A Multistep Process

First, a sample is taken from a patient’s nose or throat, using a special swab. That swab goes into a tube and is sent to a lab. Some large hospitals have on-site molecular labs, but most samples are sent to outside labs for processing. More on that later.

That transit time usually runs about 24 hours, but it could be longer, depending on how far the hospital is from the processing lab.

Once at the lab, the specimen is processed, which means lab workers extract the virus’s RNA, the molecule that helps regulate genes.

“That step of cleaning, the RNA extraction step, is one limiting factor,” said Cathie Klapperich, vice chair of the department of biomedical engineering at Boston University. “Only the very biggest labs have automated ways of extracting RNA from a sample and doing it quickly.”

After the RNA is extracted, technicians also must carefully mix special chemicals with each sample and run those combinations in a machine for analysis, a process called polymerase chain reaction (PCR), which can detect whether the sample is positive or negative for COVID.

“Typically, a PCR test takes six hours from start to finish to complete,” said Kelly Wroblewski, director of infectious disease programs at the Association of Public Health Laboratories.

Some labs have larger staffs and more machines, so they can process more tests at a time than others. But even for those labs, as demand grows, so does the backlog.

Capacity Is Expanding, But Not Enough

Initially, only a few public health labs and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention processed COVID-19 tests. Problems with the first CDC test kits also led to delays.

Now the CDC has a better kit, and 94 public health labs across the country do COVID-19 testing, said Wroblewski.

But those labs can’t possibly do all that’s needed. In normal times, their main function is regular public health surveillance — detecting more common threats such as outbreaks of measles or monitoring seasonal influenza — “but not to do diagnostic testing of the magnitude that is required in this response,” she said.

Large commercial labs like those run by companies such as Quest Diagnostics and LabCorp were given the go-ahead late last month by the FDA to start testing, too.

The FDA has said it won’t stop certain private labs — those that are already certified to perform complex testing — and diagnostic companies from developing their own test kits. Labs at some big-name hospital systems, such as Advent Health, the Cleveland Clinic and the University of Washington, are among those doing this.

In addition, the FDA has approved more than a dozen testing kits by various manufacturers or labs under special emergency rules designed to speed the process. Those include tests by Quest Diagnostics, LabCorp, Roche, Quidel Corp. and others. The kits are used in PCR machines, either in hospital labs or large commercial labs.

“Our chief medical officer on the East Coast said that, up until two days ago, on average it was taking 72 hours to get results,” said Susan Van Meter, executive director of AdvaMedDx, a division of the Advanced Medical Technology Association, a device and diagnostics industry trade group. “That will get better as our member companies come on the market.”

Even so, supply is not keeping up with demand, Roche CEO Severin Schwan told CNBC on Monday. Roche won the first approval from the FDA for a test kit under emergency rules, and it has delivered more than 400,000 kits so far.

“Demand continues to be much higher than supply,” Schwan told CNBC. “So we are glad that overall capacity is increasing, but the reality is that broad-based testing is not yet possible.”

How Many Tests Can Be Done At A Time?

That varies. Large commercial labs can do a lot. LabCorp, for example, said it is processing 20,000 tests a day — and hopes to do more soon. Other test kit makers and labs are also ramping up capacity.

Smaller labs — such as molecular labs at some hospitals — can do far fewer per day but get results to patients faster because they save on transit time.

Still, it’s usually only large academic medical centers and some health systems that have their own molecular labs, which require complex equipment.

One of those is Medstar Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, D.C.

“From beginning to results can take five to six hours,” said Joeffrey Chahine, technical director for the molecular pathology division there.

Even at such hospitals, the tests are often prioritized for patients who have been admitted and staff who might have been exposed to COVID-19, said Chahine. His lab can process 93 samples at a time and run a few cycles a day, up to about 280, he said. Last week, it did 186 a day, three days in a row.

But hospitals with this ability are generally “not testing from their outpatient centers or the ER,” he said. In other words, the in-house labs aren’t running tests from walk-in patients.

Those tests are sent to large outside labs “so as not to overwhelm the hospital lab.” While those outside labs have large staffs, “the demand is so high that these outpatient clinics and ERs say the turnaround time can be four to seven business days,” he said.

Supply Shortages Are Slowing Test Production

As the worldwide demand for testing has grown, so, too, have shortages of the chemical agents used in the test kits, the swabs used to get the samples, and the protective masks and gear used by health workers taking the samples.

“There is an inadequate supply of so many things associated with testing,” said Wroblewski, which is why her group, along with officials in states including New York and cities including Los Angeles, recommend prioritizing who should be tested for COVID-19.

At the front of the line, she said, should be health care workers and first responders; older adults who have symptoms, especially those living in nursing homes or assisted living residences; and people who may have other illnesses that would be treated differently if they were infected. Bottom line: prioritizing who is tested will help speed the turnaround time for getting results to people in these circumstances and reduce their risk of spreading the illness.

Still, urgent shortages of some of the chemicals needed to process the tests are hampering efforts to test health care workers, including at hospitals such as SUNY Downstate medical center in hard-hit New York.

Looking forward, companies are working on quicker tests. Indeed, the FDA in recent days has approved tests from two companies that promise results in 45 minutes or less. Those will be available only in hospitals that have special equipment to run them. One of those companies, Cepheid of Sunnyvale, California, says about 5,000 U.S. hospitals already have the equipment needed to process these tests. Both firms say they will ship to the hospitals soon but have given few specifics on quantity or timing.

But many public health officials say doctors and clinics need a truly rapid test they can use in their offices, one like the tests already in use for influenza or strep throat.

A number of companies are moving in that direction. Late Friday, for instance, Abbott Laboratories announced that the FDA has given emergency-use authorization for the company’s rapid, point-of-care test, which can deliver positive results in as little as five minutes and negative results in 13.

The tests are processed on a small device already installed in thousands of medical offices, ERs, urgent care clinics and other settings. Abbott said it will begin this week to make 50,000 tests available per day.

“That’s going to make a meaningful difference,” said Van Meter at AdvaMedDx, who believes the rapid tests are a critical piece in the continuum of available testing.

Even though lab-based PCR tests, which are done at large labs and academic medical centers, can take several hours to produce a result, the machines used can test high numbers of cases all at once. The rapid test by Abbott — and other, similar tests now under development — do far fewer at a time but deliver results much faster.

“This can be provided in a doctor’s office or an ER, helping to triage patients who are waiting to get in,” said Van Meter. “It’s a very fine complement to the testing that exists.”

This story was produced by Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent program of the Kaiser Family Foundation.</>