Behind the Frontlines: Q&A with DispatchHealth’s Dr. Stefen Ammon
DispatchHealth Medical Director and Implementation Physician, Dr. Stefen Ammon, MD, manages two careers on the frontlines of a pandemic and leads the DispatchHealth COVID-19 Task Force to develop safety and treatment protocols.
For a practicing emergency physician like Ammon, this pandemic has been all-consuming.
Ammon has seen the trend of people avoiding or delaying seeking medical treatment until it’s too late. He’s watched new cases reach alarming levels. And he’s spent countless hours researching trends and reading scientific reports. So what are his thoughts on how this pandemic will shift the healthcare industry? And why is he an advocate for DispatchHealth’s comprehensive in-home care model? We asked some hard-hitting questions to find out.
Tell us about your background. What lead you to DispatchHealth?
I am a practicing emergency physician. I enjoy the practice of medicine and the opportunity it provides to have a meaningful impact on the lives of others. However, I have also enjoyed taking advantage of organizational, administrative and leadership opportunities afforded by my medical education, including serving as a chief resident, emergency department medical director, hospital board member and hospital chief of staff/medical staff president.
It was by sheer luck that I landed a position with an emergency medicine practice that was run by a highly talented group of emergency physicians that included Dr. Mark Prather and Dr. Phil Mitchell, the founding members of DispatchHealth.
I jumped at the opportunity to join DispatchHealth as a medical director when the position became available.
As DispatchHealth Medical Director and Implementation Physician, what does your position entail?
I partner with advanced practice providers and team members to continually improve the care we provide DispatchHealth patients.
How do you manage your position with DispatchHealth while continuing to practice in the ER setting?
It can be challenging to balance clinical and administrative work; particularly given the fact that clinical work often takes place during evening and weekend hours. I rely on the grace of those I work with (and more importantly, those I love and live with) to understand the difficulties inherent in my schedule.
However, I feel that my clinical work brings value to, and informs, my work as a DispatchHealth medical director, helping me to remain clinically relevant to the DispatchHealth providers with whom I partner.
Likewise, my administrative duties within the hospital help me to better understand the current state of affairs in hospital systems, so that I can better understand opportunities for DispatchHealth to partner with healthcare systems and to meet the needs of patients.
What stands out to you most about working at DispatchHealth versus in a traditional hospital setting?
I am proud of the work that I do in the emergency department (ED) as an emergency physician.
An effective ED is a well-oiled machine that rapidly identifies and stabilizes life-threatening problems and saves lives.
The downside of the well-oiled “ED machine” is that it provides a one-size-fits-all approach to patient care, sacrificing individualized care for speed and efficiency. Sometimes, it feels as though the ED “inflicts care” upon patients.
In the ED, I spend a few minutes assessing a patient before ordering testing and treatment and moving on to the next patient. My one-on-one time with patients is greatly limited.
By contrast, DispatchHealth provides individualized, one-on-one, right-sized care rather than the one-size-fits-all care option provided in the ED. The DispatchHealth structure allows provider teams the time necessary to effectively partner and educate patients. We offer many of the services available in the ED in a way that it is tailored to meet the needs of our patients, wherever they are in life’s journey.
In addition, providing care in a patient’s home allows the DispatchHealth provider a unique opportunity to understand and address the patient’s social situation, which we know significantly impacts the patient’s physical health.
What has been the most rewarding part about working for DispatchHealth?
Joining DispactHealth has been a chance to be a part of the solution — rather than the problem — in dealing with the U.S. healthcare crisis.
At DispatchHealth, we are entirely focused on doing the right thing for our patients, with every single encounter. I am proud of the work that we do, and the way in which DispatchHealth provides life-changing and meaningful care for our patients.
The DispatchHealth COVID Task Force: What does the task force do?
The DispatchHealth COVID-19 Task Force was designed to keep patients and providers safe from contracting/spreading COVID-19 through education and the development of safety and treatment protocols.
How have your responsibilities changed with the onset of COVID-19?
I have spent much of my time over the past few months continually reviewing the literature and clinical updates regarding the pandemic so that I can keep the Task Force apprised of the latest scientific information regarding COVID-19.
As a healthcare provider, what has been the most difficult part about this pandemic?
The uncertainty has been the greatest difficulty associated with the COVID-19 pandemic; uncertainties surrounding the character of the virus, the character of COVID-19 infection, the trajectory of the pandemic, testing and how long this will all last has made the situation extremely stressful.
What do you want the community to know about COVID-19?
I want everyone in the community to know that:
- Infection with COVID-19 presents with a myriad of symptoms, ranging from mild upper respiratory symptoms, to the loss of the sense of taste and smell, to weakness and fatigue, vomiting and diarrhea, respiratory failure and death.
- A substantial proportion of patients carrying (and shedding) SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, remain completely asymptomatic.
These facts help to explain the important role of social-distancing, hand hygiene and mask-wearing in limiting the spread of infection.
What do you expect our ‘new normal’ to look like?
This is definitely one of the uncertainties associated with the pandemic; we just don’t have any real way of knowing how this pandemic will affect us for the next 6 weeks, 6 months or 6 years. So it is difficult to know where the ‘new normal’ will land.
What advice do you have for people as the country begins to reopen?
Be mindful and be safe. The experiences in New York, New Jersey, China and Italy are real. If we can take precautions, we can keep ourselves, and our loved ones, safe from the spread of COVID-19.