Responding to Omicron - red and green streams

8 February 2022

Dr Bryan Betty, College Medical Director
Dr Peter Moodie, College Clinical Advisor

As we look toward the “new normal” for general practice we need to decide whether the physical separation of patients with COVID-19 infections from others is likely to be a permanent feature in our practices. 

As we head towards the winter months, now is a perfect time to think about how you and your practices will deal with high numbers of COVID-19 in the community, as well as the routine winter infections such as influenza and whooping cough that we see every year. We know this means higher levels of traffic into the practice and where the issue of red and green streaming becomes more of a challenge.

There are practices that do not have the luxury of separate waiting rooms for different types of patients and have resorted to some form of compromise such as keeping patients with respiratory infections (PRIs) outside until they are ready to be seen, installing a temporary dedicated cabin outside, or seeing some patients in the carpark.  One problem with these solutions is that it may be seen as “catastrophising” what is likely to be a relatively minor infection.

However, the safety of our patients and our teams is paramount.

The viability of a practice depends on an efficient flow of patients each day, but in reality, the advent of winter may make these ad hoc solutions difficult to continue.

Other solutions may include seeking professional help to look at the design of the waiting areas can small changes be made to maximise the existing space. Even installing simple screens or HEPA filters and ensuring good ventilation in the practice may be all that is needed.  Having dedicated times or sessions for patients presenting with respiratory infections may also be worth considering. 

Whatever you do, it is important to make sure any changes are communicated to your enrolled population. You can do this by updating your phone’s hold message, website, portal and social media pages, as well as signage throughout the practice. 

In the long term, we are going to have to revisit the basic concepts of general practice design, but that might not be top of mind currently in the middle of a pandemic.

We look forward to suggestions on how to solve these issues and hearing what solutions your practice has implemented.