Dr. Mike Tankersley of the Tankersley Clinic educates listeners about key differences between coronavirus symptoms and springtime allergies. What is the difference, and when should you be worried?
See the transcript below.
Anna Bell: Hello everyone, I’m Anna Bell. Today, I’m thankful to have Dr. Mike Tankersley, owner of the Tankersley Clinic in Collierville, who is an adult and pediatric allergist and immunologist on the phone with us to talk about what he’s experiencing on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic in his clinic. Dr Tankersley, thank you for taking the time to talk with us today.
Dr. Mike Tankersley: I appreciate the opportunity.
AB: You’ve been in the medical field for quite some time now, haven’t you? Can you tell us a little bit about your background and maybe when you open the clinic in Collierville?
MT: Yeah, sure. I’m a second generation Memphian and actually did all my education, kindergarten through medical school here in Memphis, and I went to medical school on the Air Force scholarship. So I went into the Air Force and did my residency and my allergy fellowship with the Air Force and we ended up staying in the Air Force for a career. So I served as the Air Force allergist for 22 years and spent my last 10 years in San Antonio, there where our main training hospital is. So I retired in 2015 and was used to taking care of my military family for 22 years, so it was a honor to be able to come back to my hometown to take care of my community here where I grew up. So I came back in 2015 and was with a large group for a year and a half and then got inspired to do my on thing and open my own practice. So to kind of put that into place, I went down to the university and worked there for a couple of years as I was getting everything in place up in my own practice. I opened here in Collierville January of 2018, so almost two and a half years into it. So we’ve been here and I’m located here in the physician office building on Poplar next to Baptist Collierville Hospital, above Campbell Clinic.
AB: That’s great. And come, you’ve come back to your roots, huh? As a medical professional, what message have you been communicating with your patients and others in the community? Just about the seriousness of this virus?
MT: Yeah, I think the reality for all of us, I think in general, there’s a very high public awareness and I’ve just sort of repeated the things that we’ve heard from the CDC and, and, I think I caution everyone to focus on the main message that’s coming from the CDC, from the medical community as opposed to the media with that. Sometimes that can be a little bit sensational, but you know, the social distancing and then just the last two weeks when the CDC has come out, just encouraging everyone to wear a face covering if they’re out in public and we’ve asked our patients to, when they come in for appointments, that they were a face cover also. So those are the big sayings, just the same things we’ve heard that we hear on TV and heard from the CDC with the social distancing. And just to be wise.
AB: So in your clinic, you offer multiple vaccines including flu shots. If someone hasn’t had their flu shot this year and is considering in light of what’s happening today, getting their shot, is it worth it to get that vaccination in your opinion?
MT: Yeah, that’s a great question Anna, because you know, now we’re already halfway through April and I think a lot of times you hear a flu season’s over, there’s no need to, and to be quite honest, you would probably have difficulty finding some places, which don’t have flu vaccine in stock and I gave my last dose yesterday so I need to order some more but it actually doesn’t expire till the end of June. So I would still recommend to those out there who did not get a flu vaccine back in the fall that if they can find a place to get it, I would still recommend doing that. And I say that for a couple of reasons. One is flu is a year round infection. Obviously it takes during the winter but it’s a year round infection and so you can get it anytime of the year and with everything going on with Covid-19, this would not be a good time to get the flu and have to go into the emergency room or be hospitalized with that.
MT: And with the influenza virus annually, unfortunately there are 50,000 deaths every single year from influenza. And I would say even to those who have already had flu this year, the flu vaccine has four strains, so you only had one, so you’re not protected against the other three. And in general, when each flu vaccine comes out in the fall, but it’s usually not for new strains, they may change one or two. So even getting the flu vaccine now, we’ll give you a little bit of into the fall until the fall flu vaccine comes out again in September and August timeframe.
AB: It’s like you said, anything you can do to kind of prevent having to go into a hospital right now, you know, is probably the best thing. Right. I’d love to hear your thoughts on telehealth services right now. What is your experience been using telemedicine in your clinic?
MT: Yeah, so the two years I was down at the university, they have a really robust telemedicine program. I was there at Lebonheur for two years and so I got on with telemedicine there. And so when I opened my own practice, I just continued doing telemedicine, not in high volumes. And so, you know, now everyone’s doing telemedicine it seems like. And so I’m doing a lot more telemedicine appointments, but it really, I think at the end of it, when all this blows over, which hopefully it will sooner than later, I think the advantage is it’s gonna push the patient population and push providers to using telemedicine more, which I think is going to be a very positive thing. And in some ways you can consider telemedicine being the Uber and the Airbnb of medicine with that.
MT: And just from a practical standpoint, there are a lot of times if I see you in clinic today in, and we do testing and a valuation and then I place you on some therapy is, a lot of times in a month, it’s really just to see how you’re doing on the therapy that I did. I don’t necessarily need to do another exam. So a lot of times you can handle things over the phone with the advantage to you is we can be on and off in 15 minutes. And depending on where you live, you might still be driving to my office after 15 minutes. So I think it offers a lot of convenience. There are certainly many situations where you, you need the physical exam where the patient needs to be in the office, but in some situations you don’t, you don’t need that, so.
AB: Has that been a challenge at all? Have you been noticing maybe in some of these tele-health, uh, visits that, man, I really need to get you in the, in the clinic versus you know, being through the computer screen?
MT: Well, just, just the nature of my practice being a subspecialist, because I don’t do acute care, so I don’t have walk-ins coming into the clinic, so I know in advance what, what the patients have. So I’m very strategic about converting a visit to a telemedicine visit. So it’s a patient that I know is not going to need any testing, I don’t need to do any lung function, if they’re an asthmatic with that, so real, I’m real intentional about who, who is most for the telemedicine visit.
AB: I see. I want to talk about allergies for a minute because this virus could not come at a worse time in the Mid-South. I mean some days I can’t tell if this little tickle in the back of my throat is something just as simple as seasonal allergies versus, you know, something as serious as Covid-19 virus. Can you tell us, are there overlapping symptoms and can you tell us when we need to be worried?
MT: Yeah, sure. Well, I think, you know, some of us in Memphis, I think those of us who have allergies and methods think everybody has allergies, but only 25% of Americans have allergies as far as from a pollen standpoint. And we’re in the midst of tree pollen, the trees in general pollinate in the spring, grasses in the summer and weeds in the fall. So in Memphis, you know, there are a lot of trees, but in general, oak pollen would be a big player here in Memphis in the spring. The bermuda pollen would be a big grass player in the summer and then ragweed pollen would be a big player in the, in the fall. So we’re in the thick of it. In general, you know, we’ve heard the main two symptoms with Covid-19 is this shortness of breath and and cough and fever, you know, those three things.
MT: And so if you don’t have asthma, you know, you’re not going to be getting shortness of breath with your spring allergies and certainly you wouldn’t get fever. But for someone who’s an asthmatic, obviously the pollen can trigger their asthma with that. But in general, the main symptoms of the pollen allergies would be the itchy, runny, sneezy, stuffy nose, post-nasal drainage, and the drainage is always going to be clear. If there’s any color to it, yellow, green, that’s always going to mean infection. We sometimes call that a “Memphitis.”
AB: Oh, okay. “Memphitis.” I love that. Yeah, that is true. Do you feel that your clinic is at a higher risk of someone catching the virus because of the nature of your business? And maybe tell us what new procedures have been in place to kind of combat that?
MT: Yeah. My clinic I think would actually be just the opposite. I actually told a patient yesterday, I think they probably have a higher chance of catching Covid-19 at a grocery store than they do in my clinic. And again, just the nature of my clinic, I’m a subspecialist so people are not coming to me for fever and in general, if someone has a fever, they usually cancel their appointment with me. And I think in the two and a half years I’ve been in my office, I’ve never had a patient who has a fever. So just the nature of the subspecialty that we’re not seeing that type of a patient population that you would see in a minor med or urgent care or maybe even a family medicine clinic.
MT: So some of the things we’ve done, I’m in the physician office building here at here on Poplar at 1458 West Poplar. So there are five of us here in the building. So downstairs is Campbell Clinic and ophthalmology clinic upstairs, and pediatrics. So what we’ve done as a building is we have normally had two entrances, so we’ve closed off the Poplar entrance. And so we have a single entrance and patients are screened when they come in into the building. And then my clinic in general, we tried to set up a handsfree environment so the patients never have to touch a doorknob. So we have our clinic waiting room door propped open that patients can come in and we’re being being an allergist, I have patients on allergy shots, so I don’t do walk in appointments for that.
MT: So patients are scheduled for their shots. So we have made sure that we never have more than 10 patients in the waiting room. What happened in general? There’s usually the way that we’ve set things up, there’s usually no more than five people in the waiting room at a time. And then when the patient comes in to see me, when they come in for their allergy shot, they’re just seeing my nursing staff. But when they have an appointment with me, when they check in at my desk, we immediately take them back into an exam room. So they’re not sitting in the waiting room. And then like I said, just two weeks ago when the CDC came out the face covering, we have asked our patients to wear a face covering, have signage for our allergy shot patients to do that. And we’ve got a couple of patients who’ve been kind enough to make face masks for the patients. So they brought in about 20. So some of our patients that show up that don’t have the face covering, we’ve been able to give them a face covering that they can just take home with them.
AB: I’m glad you mentioned that. That’s so nice. You know, I’ve been saying a lot of people kind of stepping up and that being their way to help out others in the community by making these face masks for others. That’s such a good thing to hear, some light in the midst of the darkness, right?
MT: That’s right.
AB: You’ve served in our military and our community for several decades now. Have you ever experienced anything like this before? And maybe tell us what you’ve learned personally as both a medical professional and a business owner?
MT: Yeah, no, I don’t think we’ve had anything like this at all. I mean, I think you’d have to go back to the flu epidemic, in the early part of the, you know, I think that was around 1920, so I’ve heard a lot of people use the word surreal and I haven’t seen the movie Contagion, but I’ve heard people talk about it as sort of, that’s what we’re living out. It’s a very unusual time and you know, not just our national history but in world history with it. So I’ve not seen anything like this before at all. So it was very unusual from that standpoint. It’s going to be interesting I think. I think again, as I said earlier in the conversation, I think there’s going to be a lot of good that comes out of this and you know, practical things like the telemedicine.
MT: I think probably even just a heightened awareness of how viruses are contagious and it’s not really, I think previously in our culture as opposed to some of the Asian cultures. I think you would, people would stare at you more if you’re out in public with the face mask. But I think probably going forward we’ll probably see people when they’re sick that they’ll wear a face mask when they go out and, and just being a little more cognizant of hand washing and things like that. So, I think there’ll be some positives that come with that. And you know, from a standpoint of being a small business owner, having my own practice, it’s similar I think to all the other small business owners is, you know, the numbers are down as far as the number of patients that we’re seeing just because I think patients, who normally would be coming in to see me as an allergist, are staying at home because they’re concerned with it. Even some of our own patients who are on allergy shots have expressed the same thing. And that’s understandable with that. So it, you know, has made a huge impact, just from an economic standpoint for everyone involved. And I’ve had some patients, you know, who’ve been put on furlough and lost their medical insurance. So it’s a difficult time for everyone.
AB: It really is. I mean, across the board, but like you said, there are still good things that we can kind of focus on. And I know me personally, my hand washing has doubled if not tripled what it was before. You know, and like you said, maybe the face mask will become, you know, normal. It kind of has and people with their face mask now, it’s not as kind of frightening as it was when this whole thing started.
AB: I’d love to give you the floor to kind of share whatever message you may have with the community in light of the current Covid-19 pandemic.
MT: Yeah. I think, you know, the big things would be just for everyone to continue to take care of yourself and your family and you know, don’t spend a whole lot of time watching the news, because I think that’s kind of everything on there. You can, I think get a little bit too much information and become unnecessarily anxious about it. So just kinda keep life balance and you know, your family and your faith. And just from a standpoint of, you know, just good mental health things, I think for those of us who are maybe dependent upon the gyms and the fitness center to help this discipline and working out now that we don’t have that, it’s an extra challenge for all of us to stay active. And so I think for all of us just to continue, that’s always good for your mental health to get those endogenous endorphins and opiates released with exercise.
AB: Thank goodness for this good weather, right? This is a blessing. Well, Dr. Tankersley, I can’t thank you enough for your time and your insight. We certainly appreciate it and you and your staff’s service to the community. Thank you.
MT: I appreciate the opportunity.
AB: And for all those who are listening, I’d like to send you all well wishes for my home to yours. Until next time, I’m Anna Bell.