Philippine Heart Center: Responsive To The Needs Of Non-COVID-19 Patients Amidst The pandemic

Living up to its reputation of being a leading healthcare institution that continues to evolve to address the cardiovascular health concerns of Filipinos, the Philippine Heart Center (PHC) has managed to serve non-COVID-19 patients throughout the pandemic, including periods when there are surges in cases.

Philippine Heart Center Executive Director Dr. Joel Abanilla said that the hospital immediately implemented measures to remain safe for non-COVID-19 patients and staff right at the start of the pandemic. “We created a Triage Area where incoming patients were segregated into COVIDs and non-COVIDs and led to the COVID and non-COVID Emergency rooms, respectively, after undergoing the RT-PCR swab test. Those with a positive swab test result will be admitted in the COVID area,” Dr. Abanilla said.

“Even the [patients] bantay is also screened and has to take the test as well, and if the bantays are not necessary or needed, we won’t allow them in, unless the patient is a pediatric, an elderly, or has a disability like stroke.”

PHC is one of the partner health institutions of the Kumusta Dok initiative that aims to empower patients to reconnect with their doctors during the new normal. The campaign helps increase awareness in identifying risk factors, signs and symptoms of some of the top causes of death among Filipinos including heart disease, cancer, stroke, pneumonia, and diabetes.

Apart from implementing the usual entry screening measures, health protocols, and staff mandate to don PPE, PHC places safety officers throughout the building to detect hot spot areas. If a certain area is deemed to have been exposed to COVID-19, everyone there will be swabbed. PHC is actually one of the first institutions in the country to practice contact tracing.

We can assure you that any part of the hospital is safe,” Dr. Abanilla said.

Allaying fear

Dr. Abanilla admits that when COVID-19 came out in early 2020, it almost reduced the number of non-cardiac patients to a significant level, citing fear of contracting the virus as the primary reason they hesitate to visit the hospital. Despite this, however, PHC still tried to reach out and educate patients about the importance of regular checkups via offline and online messaging.

Patients see the importance of seeing their doctor but they’re just overwhelmed with fear. So we had to correct that,” Dr. Abanilla said.

Now that more and more non-COVID-19 patients are returning to visiting their doctor in-person at PHC, the hospital has invested in upgrading its disinfecting machines like HEPA filters,

humidifiers, and ultraviolet light to further make everyone feel safe. Guards are instructed to monitor the number of people coming in to avoid overcrowding.

The hospital also formed a committee to encourage its staff to get vaccinated. “Initially staff were vaccine-hesitant, but now we are 99% vaccinated,” he said. “I told them we need to protect each other.”

Preventable and modifiable

According to Dr. Abanilla, PHC doctors have adopted various approaches to meet their patients.

Some use teleconsultation, while others place a barrier between them and their patient during in-person checkups. Dr. Abanilla has brought in a reliever who meets his outpatients via teleconsultation while performing his other responsibilities at PHC.

“Although teleconsultation has limitations, it’s very convenient. A very good doctor can extract a lot of information from it,” he said.

But whether online or in-person, Dr. Abanilla encourages patients suffering from chronic non- communicable diseases not to allow the fear of contracting COVID-19 to keep them from getting in touch with their doctors.

“They have to understand that they have a disease that’s progressive in nature. It changes. It gets worse in time. So, there should be a corresponding response to that dynamism,” Dr. Abanilla said.

“Kung hindi sila pupunta sa doktor, mapapabayaan yun. There are conditions that are preventable and modifiable. They lose that chance without consultation.”

The Kumusta Dok initiative also gives tips and updates on the channels available for patients to strengthen partnerships with doctors throughout the health-seeking journey. It shares efforts being made by healthcare facilities to ensure the safety of patients and healthcare staff while delivering appropriate care.