Driving In for Added Safety

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Social distancing guidelines tell us that being outside, avoiding crowds and staying masked up can greatly reduce the spread of COVID-19. To safely provide for routine health care needs outdoors, MUSC Health Primary Care worked diligently through the beginning of the pandemic to organize drive-in options.

“Patients — and it’s not just at MUSC but around the country — are leery about going into medical facilities,” said John McDonald, M.D., medical director of primary care for MUSC Health.

Although MUSC Health has set up stringent protocols in its practices to reduce the risk of exposure to both employees and patients, McDonald recognizes that many are still worried about entering enclosed spaces. Setting up outdoor blood draw clinics at existing primary care locations has allowed MUSC Health to continue to provide care for clinical conditions that don’t go away during a pandemic. This includes checking glucose levels for patients with diabetes, assessing how a medication is working, and ordering routine labs for an annual physical, to name a few.

The drive-in labs have been supported by providers across the MUSC Health system, from oncologists to primary care physicians, and by patients. Vulnerable populations and any person who chooses can receive routine bloodwork and flu shots without entering a practice. With this option, MUSC Health Primary Care has added another level of COVID-19 safety into our available health care options. 

Appointments are required at each drive-in lab location. The appointments allow for patients to be separated and for cleaning between visits. Patients park in designated areas and call to check in when they arrive. Patients are then screened for symptoms of COVID-19. If they have not had symptoms, they are provided a mask and instructions. They are then greeted by gloved and masked staff and exit the car for the blood draw.

McDonald noted that many MUSC Health providers now include virtual care visits as a result of the pandemic, but some care still needs to be done in person.

As the pandemic continued into the fall, the next concern became how flu season could impact COVID-19 infection rates and testing for both flu and COVID-19. Getting the flu shot became more important than ever to protect the most vulnerable populations and reduce strain on hospitals. To make it easier for patients to get the flu shot, MUSC Health Primary Care opened a drive-in flu shot clinic at each primary care practice. These locations were separate from the bloodwork drive-in labs. From October through December, patients of all ages were able to visit their primary care practice and receive their flu shot while staying in their car. Again, appointments were required and timed to keep operations running smoothly and safely. Gloved and masked staff checked in patients from the car and administered the vaccine without the patients leaving their car.

McDonald said that these initiatives included multidisciplinary teams composed of clinicians, supply chain staff, practice managers and more to implement these systems quickly and efficiently. The health system will continue to offer drive-in labs as long as necessary to ensure patient safety and access to needed care.