To stay on top of the latest COVID-19 news as it relates to the industry, sign up for our daily newsletter here.
As the number of U.S. COVID-19 cases expands, some healthcare providers are rolling out drive-through testing to help protect patients and healthcare workers from contracting the virus.
Tenet Healthcare Corp. said Wednesday it's prepared to perform drive-up testing for COVID-19 where patients could get tested without leaving their cars. The Dallas-based hospital chain's CEO explained Wednesday at the virtual Barclays Global Healthcare Conference that the company has launched external triage centers at all of its 65 hospitals.
"So if you can visualize this, we've laid out parking lots in anticipation of being able to immediately switch to a triage process, where you would be able to check temperatures, do swabs, et cetera, without the person actually leaving their car," CEO Ron Rittenmeyer said.
Patients would then be directed home for self-quarantine until the results come in, at which point next steps would depend on the patients' acuity, he said.
UW Medicine has been testing staff, faculty and trainees since March 6 at a drive-through site in a parking garage at the University of Washington Medical Center-Northwest in north Seattle. Nurses stationed in tents are conducting the tests on employees who remain in their cars. As of yesterday, 231 patients had been tested. UW Medicine plans to open another drive-through testing clinic for its patients, spokeswoman Leila Gray wrote in an email.
Tenet has fewer than 12 patients in its system who are either positive for COVID-19 and quarantined in the hospital or being investigated as potential COVID-19 cases, Rittenmeyer said. The company has also limited visitor access to its hospitals, shutting down certain entry points and setting up lanes where people will enter based on their situation, Rittenmeyer said.
Tenet, which drew $18.5 billion in revenue last year, has 13 hospitals in California, a state that's seeing a high number of coronavirus infections. California had 137 confirmed COVID-19 cases and two deaths as of Wednesday morning, according to a Johns Hopkins University tracking system.
Despite that, Rittenmeyer said the coronavirus has not disrupted normal operations. "We're very careful and very aware that our normal operations have to continue," he said. "That's why we're there. And therefore, we have gotten ahead of all of that, I think, for the most part."
Minneapolis-based academic health system M Health Fairview announced it has set up similar drive-up testing sites at four of its clinic locations. Patients must call ahead or visit its 24/7 online care portal, OnCare, to first get screened by a provider to determined whether testing is necessary. Patients who show up to the drive-up site without a referral will be directed to OnCare.
COVID-19 and upper respiratory infection-related visits to OnCare are being provided with no out-of-pocket costs to patients, an M Health Fairview spokeswoman wrote in an email. "We are working out payments with insurers and the state," the email said.
It's not just hospitals. On Wednesday, Colorado's Department of Public Health & Environment opened the state's first drive-up testing center in Denver. Patients must have a doctor's note and photo ID to be tested. According to a news release, patients drive to a secured area and stay in their cars throughout the testing process. The tests are free.
The release warned patients to prepare for long wait times, and said no restroom will be available.
"This testing center will help the state test as many people as possible and improve the public health response by identifying and isolating those who are ill," the release said. "This approach also helps to protect older adults and people with compromised immune systems."