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Primary care pediatrician sees glimmers of hope as pandemic enters 3rd year

March 1, 2022

Editor's note: As the COVID-19 pandemic enters its third year, Dale W. Guthrie, M.D.,FAAP, is one of six pediatricians reflecting on what keeps him going, the lessons he's learned along the way and he hopes for the future. To read all six reflections, click here.

Looking back, Dale W. Guthrie, M.D., FAAP, recalls times of gloom, especially early in the pandemic. But lately, he’s seeing more signs of hope.

Dr. Guthrie said the start of the pandemic was the most difficult period for the staff at Gilbert Pediatrics in Arizona as they focused on avoiding infection, acquiring personal protective equipment and applying for the government loan to keep everyone on board as they watched business drop 40%.

Another taxing time came when the pediatricians and nurses realized they had to start seeing more patients in person again for screenings and other preventive care. The office utilized telehealth, but it wasn’t the same.

“You can’t put a stethoscope on a kid’s chest over the internet,” said Dr. Guthrie, who co-founded the practice 33 years ago with Randy H. Leavitt, M.D., FAAP. “It was a really hard thing emotionally, psychologically, to not be able to do what a pediatrician is supposed to do to take care of patients.”

The practice initially decided to see well patients in the mornings and sick patients in the afternoons. Some of the pediatricians were hesitant to open up again, “but now we’re pretty comfortable. We’ve got the vaccine and … the whole office is immunized, so we feel better…” Dr. Guthrie said, noting that an electronic medical record callback system has been beneficial.

One recent encounter provided a reason for encouragement. A mother showed up in the office with her six kids, though only two of them had appointments.

“She brings them in and says, ‘Now today you’re seeing these two, but I want all of these kids to get a flu vaccine,’” Dr. Guthrie recalled.

Because he knew the family generally rejected flu vaccines, he agreed to the request.

Dr. Guthrie sees other signs that things are looking up. While not back to pre-pandemic income, the practice’s bottom line is improving. And more kids are getting their routine immunizations and well checks.

“We don’t have to be as scared now because we have (COVID) vaccines that seem to be holding strong,” Dr. Guthrie said. “And for me that’s the hopeful part.”

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