Getting Your Care Safely at UW Health During the COVID-19 Response

Dr. Jeff Pothof takes you on a tour of the changes at University Hospital, American Family Children’s Hospital and in the Emergency Department

The onset of COVID-19 caused UW Health and virtually all healthcare systems to temporarily postpone many surgical and diagnostic procedures and clinic appointments during the past several weeks as they prepared for a surge in COVID-19 cases.

These postponements were always considered temporary, and we are pleased that conditions now allow UW Health to safely reschedule some of these deferred procedures and appointments. There are many reasons why this decision is the right one for our patients at this time.

  • Postponements cannot continue indefinitely for most patients, and the urgency or necessity of procedures requires that we move to accommodate patient needs to avoid complications and improve their quality of life.
  • After weeks of handling COVID-19 positive patients under our new protocols, we have confirmed our ability to isolate and treat positive patients without putting others at risk.
  • Our improved in-house COVID-19 testing capabilities and pre-op screening process further improves safety for patients and staff.
  • Your efforts to observe physical distancing and hand washing are making a big difference. To date the surge in COVID-19 cases we prepared for in South Central Wisconsin has been a flatter curve.

We understand that you and your family may have questions about coming into a medical facility at this time, and we are taking every precaution possible to make your hospital or clinic visit safe.

Below are some frequently asked questions and answers we hope will help you and your loved ones as you begin to reschedule important procedures or appointments at a UW Health medical facility.

The practices outlined here are consistent with federal guidelines recently issued by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

Safety at UW Health Clinics

What safety measures are taking place at UW Health clinics?

All UW Health clinics are screening patients, staff and visitors at the entrance to minimize the chance of anyone with COVID-19 symptoms from possibly spreading the virus. Patients, visitors and staff are required to wear face coverings in our facilities. We have signage and tape markings in the clinics to ensure proper physical distancing. Visitation restrictions help limit the number of people in our facilities, which supports physical distancing and limits opportunities for spread of the virus. And we have managed our supply of personal protective equipment to ensure that patients and their providers have everything they need to be safe.

If I have an upcoming appointment that can wait because my situation is not urgent, how do I reschedule?

Simply call your clinic.

Can a family member or friend accompany me to a clinic appointment?
  • One visitor over the age of 12 per patient will be permitted to accompany adult patients to their appointment. All visitors must wear a face covering.
  • Visitors are required to obtain and consume any food or drink outside our facilities to ensure compliance with the use of face coverings.
  • Visitors are not allowed to congregate in public areas.

Children coming for appointments at American Family Children’s Hospital are allowed two adult visitors but no siblings. View the latest guidelines

Can my clinic appointment be done online through a telephone or video visit?

UW Health continues to conduct many routine clinic visits by phone and is adding the ability to schedule more video visits. Moreover, our Care Anywhere option is always available for unscheduled, immediate care through your computer, tablet or smart phone at a cost of no more than $49. Please contact your clinic to learn more about phone or video options for care.  

What if I need to have bloodwork done (lab draw) or need to drop off a urine sample or other specimen?

With our patients, employees and visitors being screened for COVID-19 symptoms before entering our clinics, you can come in to safely have a lab draw or drop off specimens as needed. Most locations offer scheduled lab appointments, so please call your clinic to schedule a lab draw. UW Health clinics do not have drive-up areas for specimen drop-offs.

Safety at Our Adult and Children’s Hospitals

Will I be safe if I am admitted at a UW Health hospital (University Hospital, UW Health at the American Center or American Family Children’s Hospital)?

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, UW Health has been taking several steps to ensure maximum patient safety. These include:

  • Everyone who enters a UW Health facility – patients, visitors, physicians and staff – is screened for COVID-19 to minimize any potential spread of the virus and required to wear a face covering.
  • While not easy on families, adult inpatients are allowed one visitor to minimize any potential spread of the virus. At American Family Children’s Hospital, up to two support persons may visit (but no siblings). View full visitor guidelines
  • All physicians and staff are being asked to take their temperature and monitor themselves twice a day for potential COVID-19 symptoms.
  • Physicians and staff are using personal protective equipment (PPE) and face coverings to protect patients in all hospital settings.
  • Inpatient registration that is normally done at the bedside is now being done over the phone to minimize personal contact.
  • Guest Services is verifying every appointment before the patient is allowed to enter University Hospital.
  • Our gifts shops are open for online and phone orders of balloons and gift bundles assembled by our staff. No flower deliveries are allowed.

Performing Surgeries and Procedures Safely

How have circumstances changed to allow for more surgeries and procedures to be scheduled?

Like all healthcare systems, UW Health had to quickly prepare for a surge of COVID-19 patients. This meant deferring many non-urgent surgeries and non-essential procedures to free up space to accommodate a surge. Thanks in large part to our community’s embrace of physical distancing and frequent hand washing, we have not seen the inpatient surge for which we prepared. This means we can safety begin treating more patients, especially in cases where continued delay could impact quality of life or increase the risk of medical complication.

How has UW Health determined which surgeries or procedures should be rescheduled?

During the first several weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic, UW Health was performing surgeries and procedures only for patients who could have been at immediate risk for harm. As the possibility of a COVID-19 patient surge has diminished, we are now looking at patients from the next tier of urgency, carefully weighing the risk of further delay against the benefit that can be achieved by going ahead with more surgeries and procedures. Our experts in infection prevention and control are involved in this decision-making process on a daily basis.

Patients concerned about coming to the hospital or clinic should know that UW Health is treating COVID-19 patients in isolation to  reduce risk for our other patients.

Should I postpone my surgery or procedure until the COVID-19 crisis is over?

With any planned surgery or procedure, you and your provider must weigh the risk of delay against the benefit that can be obtained by moving forward with your surgery or procedure. Some patients would be putting themselves at great risk to continue waiting. Moreover, it is likely that COVID-19 will be with us, at least in some form, for months to come.

As an academic health system, UW Health has expertise in caring for patients with complex health conditions, as well as in infection prevention and control. Your surgeon or physician’s team is working hard to assess whether your surgery or procedure can be safely performed or should postponed further. We also encourage you to ask your surgeon or physician directly if further postponement is a safe option for you.

Safety During Emergency Visits for Heart Attack, Stroke and Other Critical Situations

Should I go to the UW Health Emergency Department for an emergency just as if I would have before COVID? Will I be an extra burden for doctors and nurses?

UW Health’s Emergency Department is open and operating normally. Despite COVID-19, an emergency is still an emergency and should be treated accordingly. Any patient that comes to the Emergency Department is welcomed and will receive great care. We have the capacity to serve every patient who comes in the door, regardless of the COVID-19 situation.

You still need to listen to your body and care for yourself, and we are here to help you do this. If you are not sure your situation is an emergency, please call your clinic, day or night, to receive advice about whether and where you should be seen.

What are examples of injuries or symptoms that absolutely should be seen in the Emergency Department?

You should come to the Emergency Department now if you would have come to the Emergency Department before COVID-19 arrived.

Adults should come to the Emergency Department for issues such as broken bones, cuts, falls, chest pain, trouble breathing, numbness or weakness, loss of balance, sudden vision changes, drooping of one side of the face, sudden slurring of speech, feelings of self-harm or other emergency situations.

Children should be brought to the Emergency Department for issues such broken bones, cuts, rapid/difficulty breathing, fussiness, vomiting, feelings of self-harm or other emergency situations. UW Health is proud to have doctors and nurses on staff who are specially trained to care for children in an emergency setting, as well as Child Life specialists who are specially trained to reduce a child’s anxiety in a medical situation.

What safety measures are being undertaken to keep the Emergency Department and waiting area safe?

To ensure the highest level of safety, we have restructured the design and processes of the Emergency Department waiting area and strive to get patients into a safe treatment area as quickly as possible. We have undertaken new steps to safely keep any patient who does not have infectious symptoms away from possible exposure. We have also undertaken extra cleaning processes and room designs (including airflow of rooms), along with staff use of personal protective equipment (PPE) to keep patients and staff safe.

Safety with Med Flight Air and Ground Emergency Transport

Is it safe as a patient to travel on UW Health’s Med Flight air and ground service?

Yes. Our Med Flight air and ground emergency transport helicopter and  ambulance receive a thorough cleaning and decontamination after every transport. In the case of a COVID-19 patient transport, the vehicle is kept out of service for at least an extra hour to ensure additional decontamination.

Our Med Flight team also protects transported patients by wearing a surgical mask and face shield while transporting patients who do not have COVID-19 symptoms. During transports of symptomatic or positive COVID-19 patients, Med Flight team members wear an N95 respirator, impermeable gown, TYVEK suit and face shield.

What About Mammography and Colonoscopy Appointments?

Is UW Health doing mammography?

If a patient has breast symptoms such as a new lump or unusual nipple discharge, we are evaluating the patient in our breast clinic and performing diagnostic mammograms or ultrasounds based on the symptoms or concern.

Routine screening mammography at UW Health will be available beginning May 26, 2020. If you had been scheduled for a screening mammogram during the COVID-19 pandemic and your mammogram was delayed, you may be contacted to reschedule. You may also call the Breast Center at (608) 266-6400 to schedule your screening mammogram.

Is UW Health doing colonoscopies?

Only diagnostic colonoscopies are being done at this time. These procedures are scheduled for patients who have gastrointestinal symptoms (such as rectal bleeding, abdominal pain, diarrhea) and who have had past or present polyps or gastrointestinal disease.

UW Health is temporarily deferring all routine screening colonoscopies, which are normally done on patients beginning at age 50 as part of their preventative care (earlier if the patient has a family history of polyps or colon cancer). If you had been scheduled for a screening colonoscopy that has been deferred, you either have been or will be contacted by our appointment center with rescheduling information.

What About Vaccinations?

What if I or my child is due for a vaccine but I’m concerned about coming into a clinic? Is it better to have the vaccine or wait until things are more normal?

In many cases, vaccines for infants and some adults are still being given at UW Health clinic locations. It is especially important to have young infants and children continue to receive their vaccines, because vaccine-preventable diseases are still a major threat to this age group. UW Health is taking every precaution to deliver these vaccines in a safe manner by practicing physical distancing in our waiting areas and screening patients and staff for COVID-19 symptoms when they enter the facility.  

Vaccinations for older children and adults will resume as clinic operations get closer to normal. Please contact your primary care clinic for the best advice. 

What if I already had the first of a multi-visit vaccine (like Shingles) but am supposed to have the second vaccine within a certain amount of time?

Many vaccines require a series of doses. The recommended intervals between doses are guidelines, and if the vaccine cannot be given within that time period, the series does NOT need to start over. UW Health Clinics are currently still giving some vaccines and working to increase the ability to provide vaccines to all patients as soon as possible.

Safe Ways to Refill My Prescription

How can I safely refill my prescriptions if I normally go to a UW Health pharmacy?

UW Health pharmacies remain open. However due to COVID-19, we are providing prescriptions only through home delivery, curbside pick-up or through our free mail delivery service. Please call your UW Health pharmacy to arrange the option that works best for you. We can also transfer your prescription from another pharmacy to a UW Health pharmacy.