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Pickup truck medicine: saving primary care during Covid-19

People in this story

STAT, July 2020

As the Covid-19 pandemic burned through Chicago, New York, Detroit, and other large U.S. cities this spring, residents serenaded and applauded hospital health care workers. Rightly so: They were doing amazing, high-risk, and innovative work. We should also have been celebrating primary care physicians, who kept finding new ways to continue caring for their patients during times of lockdown and hardship, often putting themselves at risk of being infected with the coronavirus.

I interviewed several primary care doctors about how they cared for their patients, themselves, and their families during the first few months of the Covid-19 outbreak in the United States. All of them work in New York state, which was one of the hardest-hit regions in the country during the March, April, and May course of the pandemic. As a standard part of my research, I always use pseudonyms when telling the stories of the people I interview.

There is Maddie, the mother of two young children who works for a rural safety net clinic in upstate New York, garbed from head to toe in personal protective equipment jumping into the backs of patients’ pickup trucks parked in the clinic lot to perform clinical examinations because the patients aren’t allowed inside with their symptoms. Delivering difficult care, like helping patients with opioid addiction, through telehealth visits. Washing her work clothes in a separate laundry each night to keep her family safe. Mad at herself for making an extra stop at the grocery store to get a gallon of milk since it added extra risk on top of the risk she was exposing herself to at work each day.

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