Patient Perceptions of Drive-Through Medical Treatment Facilities During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Sean Stuart, DO, LCDR, MC, USN; Sally Mandichak, MD, LT, MC, USN; Julianne Davison, MD, LT, MC, USN; Shai Ansell, MD, LT, MC, USN; Timothy Parker, MD, LT, MC, USN


Western J Emerg Med. 2021;22(5):1032-1036. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


Introduction: The cumulative burden of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) on the United States' healthcare system is substantial. To help mitigate this burden, novel solutions including telehealth and dedicated screening facilities have been used. However, there is limited data on the efficacy of such models and none assessing patient comfort levels with these changes in healthcare delivery. The aim of our study was to evaluate patients' perceptions of a drive-through medical treatment system in the setting of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Method: Patients presenting to a drive-through COVID-19 medical treatment facility were surveyed about their experience following their visit. An anonymous questionnaire consisting of five questions, using a five-point Likert scale was distributed via electronic tablet.

Results: We obtained 827 responses over two months. Three quarters of respondents believed care received was similar to that in a traditional emergency department (ED). Overall positive impression of the drive-through was 86.6%, and 95% believed that it was more convenient.

Conclusion: Overall, the drive-through medical system was perceived as more convenient than the ED and was viewed as a positive experience. While representing a dramatic change in the delivery model of medical care, if such systems can provide comparable levels of care, they may be a viable option for sustained and surge healthcare delivery.


The coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic introduced multiple new stressors on an already struggling and overburdened healthcare system. At the forefront of the pandemic, emergency departments (ED) had to absorb this new load. The sheer burden of disease, 6.3 million cases in an 8.5-month time frame,[1] highlighted potential challenges in providing and delivering quality patient care. These hurdles included large patient volumes, various clinical presentations of the disease, the financial burden of medical resources and supplies, and maintaining staff safety in the face of a droplet-based infectious disease.

The cumulative burden of the COVID-19 virus on the US healthcare system is substantial. Complicating the picture is the fact that the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-COV-2) spreads via respiratory droplet transmission[2] and many patients are asymptomatic vectors of the disease. Given these characteristics, major cities such as New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles were experiencing record case numbers in their EDs and hospitals.[2] The burden falls on EDs to identify and isolate patients at risk while maintaining efficiency and safety for all patients and staff.[3] Novel solutions have included telehealth visits and screening test facilities that include outdoor and drive-through venues, aimed at minimizing contact exposure and diverting less ill patients from the ED. Remote and drive-through COVID-19 screening facilities have become common place mechanisms that allow for the rapid testing of populations. Initial data from Korea demonstrated that such systems for COVID-19 are a feasible and efficient option for screening, testing, and counseling stable patients.[4] However, most of the facilities are primarily for point-of-care testing, without the ability to evaluate and treat ill patients. To our knowledge few systems have expanded these drive-through systems to allow full clinician evaluations. Such systems represent a significant deviation from traditional healthcare delivery models.

While data is being collected on the systemic advantages of a pandemic screening system, there is limited data of the efficacy of such models and none assessing patient comfort levels with this change in healthcare delivery. The aim of our study was to evaluate patients' perceptions of a drive-through medical treatment facility (DMEF).