Steps to leadership during the COVID-19 era and beyond

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ObGyn clinical experience and leadership skills can help pilot patient care through the COVID-19 pandemic and plan a cohesive response to future crises



SARS CoV-2 (severe acute respiratory syndrome corona-
virus 2) has challenged us all and will continue to do so for at least the next several months. This novel virus has uncovered our medical hubris and our collective failure to acknowledge our vulnerability in the face of biological threats. As government, public health, health systems, medical professionals, and individuals struggle to grasp its enormous impact, we must recognize and seize the opportunities for leadership that the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic presents to us as physicians.

For too long we have abdicated responsibility for driving change in the US health system to politicians, administrators, and those not on the front line of care delivery. We can, however, reclaim our voice and position of influence in 2 primary spheres: first, as ObGyns we have the specific clinical knowledge and experience required to help guide our institutions in the care of our patients under new and ever-changing circumstances; second, beyond our clinical role as ObGyns, we are servant leaders to whom the public, the government, our trainees, and our clinical teams turn for guidance.

Foundations for policy development

Disaster planning in hospitals and public health systems rarely includes consideration for pregnant and delivering patients. As ObGyns, we must create policies and procedures using the best available evidence—which is slim—and, in the absence of evidence, use our clinical and scientific expertise both to optimize patient care and to minimize risk to the health care team.

At this point in time there is much we do not know, such as whether viral particles in blood are contagious, amniotic fluid contains infectious droplets, or newborns are in danger if they room-in with an infected mother. What we do know is that the evidence will evolve and that our policies and procedures must be fluid and allow for rapid change. Here are some guiding principles for such policies.

Maximize telemedicine and remote monitoring

Labor and delivery (L&D) is an emergency department in which people are triaged from the outside. Systems should incorporate the best guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists while reducing infection exposure to staff, laboring patients, and newborns. One way to limit traffic in the triage area is to have a seasoned clinician perform phone triage for women who think they need evaluation for labor.

Maintain universal caution and precautions

All people entering L&D should be presumed to be COVID-19 positive, according to early evidence reported from Columbia University in New York City.1 After remote or off-site phone triage determines that evaluation is needed in L&D, a transporter could ensure that all people escorted to L&D undergo a rapid COVID-19 test, wear a mask, and wash their hands. Until point-of-care testing is available, we must adopt safety precautions, since current data suggest that asymptomatic people may shed the infectious virus.

Both vaginal and cesarean deliveries expose everyone in the room to respiratory droplets. Common sense tells us that the laboring patient and her support person should wear a mask and that caregivers should be protected with N95 masks as well as face shields. If this were standard for every laboring patient, exposure during emergency situations might be minimized.

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