The COVID-19 pandemic is upending life on a global level. The highly infectious disease, which was first seen in Wuhan, China, has spread across multiple countries globally, causing a devastating health crisis in its wake. In less than a year, the virus has killed over 2 million people, with over 450,000 succumbing to pandemic-related complications in the United States. As the virus-related death toll continues to mount, health care providers are courageously taking on the risk by helping patients recover amid medical equipment shortages.
Apparently, the pandemic has taken a toll on every person’s mental health across the world. Thousands have taken to the internet to provide coping strategies to deal with the unpredictable global outbreak’s challenges. However, frontline workers are more at risk of getting infected and exposed to the raging virus’s emotional horrors.
As everyone struggles with the pandemic’s consequences in their own ways, healthcare providers are considering whether to write their will as they submit to fate in what might be their last act of courage. According to a study published in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases, 300,000 healthcare providers have been infected across thirty-seven countries, and over 3000 fatalities have been recorded.
“I don’t think there is any doubt that we have missed much of the opportunity to use this pandemic as a wakeup call to live healthier lives and that this virus, as well as most of the other problems that plague our country and its health, are likely directly connected with our lifestyle, nutrition, and exercise.” Dr. Kendrick lamented while responding to questions from TopDoctor magazine.
Dr. Kendrick Johnson is a family health physician and lifestyle medicine doctor at Ark Family Health in Peoria, Arizona. Graduating from Touro University in Nevada, Dr. Kendrick started Ark Family Health, the first Direct Primary Care clinic in Phoenix, helping hundreds of people and employers improve their quality of life while saving money.
Dr. Kendrick is the seventh child of a dedicated pediatrician who inspired his children through his selfless service towards humanity. “From an early experience, I have always wanted to be a physician. I remember being in a grocery store with my dad, and a lady came up to us and looked down at me and said, ‘do you know that your dad saved my son’s life?’ I remember thinking, wow, my dad is a hero because he had this incredible impact on this family, and I thought about becoming a physician as a way of preventing suffering, alleviating people’s pain, and improving their quality of life.”
As a result, Dr. Kendrick has devoted his time to providing care, which underscores his remarkable effort to help people during the pandemic. As an optimistic student who was determined to provide a solution to people’s health challenges, Dr. Kendrick was a bit surprised when he didn’t hear much of anything about preventing and curing disease in medical school.
“There wasn’t a lesson where we talked about how nutrition could prevent 90% of heart attacks, we didn’t talk about how powerful exercise is in preventing disease, we looked at how poor diet and sedentary lifestyle are risk factors for some of the major killers, but we didn’t do justice or help us understand that if these people were living different lifestyle probably wouldn’t have heart attacks, strokes, or diabetes. I was surprised that we weren’t learning how to prevent these diseases, so I wondered if the disease is preventable. So I started looking at research and statistics and data published in medical journals and high-quality medical articles and found that most of the diseases in the US are preventable, most with lifestyle changes. As a young physician, after medical school, I was determined that I was going to help people to prevent this disease even if no one else thinks about helping people to prevent this disease. On my appointments, I spend more time talking to people about nutrition and about exercise and depression and mental health because these seem to be the heart of so many people’s problems.”
Talking about the impact of the pandemic on his practice, Dr. Kendrick told us, “It’s been a not-so-welcomed but helpful test of the Direct Primary Care model because we are many in my traditional models with real problems. Many of the independent primary care offices shut down because they only have one way of taking care of patients, and that was based on the old model of bringing patients to the office. In Direct Primary Care, we were already doing virtual visits as part of the way we take care of patients even before the pandemic. As patients became more comfortable with the technology, we found that this is a model that was better prepared for the future. Though many of our patients lost jobs and experienced all other challenges that came with the pandemic, we have continued to grow and provide service to people through the pandemic, which is a blessing.”
Dr. Kendrick’s direct care practice was perfectly suited to the pandemic virtually because the primary care was not connected with employer-based insurance, so people could keep their doctors when they lost their jobs. His virtual health care service also gave people the ability to get care when they aren’t supposed to leave their homes or visit the clinic to avoid spreading disease. Consequently, Dr. Kendrick was able to spend more time with people, check-in on their mental health, and meet their needs while going through tough times.
While responding to questions regarding the most significant issues that occurred during the pandemic, Dr. Kendrick said, “the biggest issue was confusion. Many people suffered in fear because of an inaccurate understanding of how the virus works and what the risks are. Our practice serves people across political lines, and we were able to talk and meet with patients with differing political viewpoints. I think so many issues were clouded by political discussions and so few people ended up really understanding the pandemic very accurately because both of the polarizing views were inaccurate. I think that providing unbiased education that people on both sides of the spectrum can understand and listen to was a challenge.”
Recently, the Food and Drug Administration authorized the use of vaccines to fight the virus. The first two vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna were authorized despite growing concerns regarding their efficacy as they were developed at record speed. The FDA granted an Emergency Use Authorization for Pfizer’s on Dec. 12, 2020, and Moderna’s on Dec. 18, 2020.
“I am encouraged by the news about the vaccine, and they look more effective than I was expecting them to be. It sounds like they are going to be able to get enough doses to really make a difference. However, there is a lot of buzz about people being concerned about the vaccines’ safety and efficacy, but I am not very concerned about that. Although I don’t necessarily trust pharmaceutical companies to do anything besides that which is in their financial interest, and I don’t think anybody has enough power to push out a vaccine that is going to be dangerous or ineffective.”
Even though he was optimistic about the efficacy of the vaccine, Dr. Kendrick quickly added that our country’s most important thing is to live a healthy lifestyle. He said that the vaccine will be critical in helping us get back to normal life. The pandemic would probably have been much less effective if we as a culture were embracing more healthy nutrition and exercise in our daily lives. “I believe that we can protect ourselves and our family by being self-responsible.”
“Also, I continue to emphasize to my patients that eating the whole plant is probably the most important part of nutrition and getting out and moving to anywhere you enjoy is probably the most important part of exercise. We talk to patients about eating fruits and vegetables and getting more exercise.”
Looking ahead to the New Year, Dr. Kendrick was excited about the potential opportunity to increase his healthcare coverage. He told us, “One of the most exciting things about this New Year is the growing trend of employers recognizing that they have the power to improve their bottom line and help their employees by contracting directly with primary care. We are getting more and more interest all the time. The experience we are having with our employers is proving to be really valuable both for business, and individual employees are patients. That’s an exciting thing that is happening. Employers are starting to understand that they have a real stake in their employees’ health, and there is something they can do about it.”
Although 2020 was full of challenges, Dr. Kendrick hopes that the New Year will present us with more opportunities to look inward, take better care of ourselves, and improve the status quo.