(Written for Grayduck Health)
COVID-19 has shifted healthcare discussions. Patients aren’t considering elective procedures — even if they were, they wouldn’t be scheduled. So, what does this mean for patients with chronic medical conditions who seek to improve the quality of their lives with advanced therapies?
And, how can healthcare providers — and medical device companies — leverage people, processes, and technology for the immediate crisis and long-term for chronic disease management?
Providing patient care from a distance
Telehealth for COVID-19 is a powerful strategy to engage, triage, and educate patients who are making the critical decisions of whether they need to seek care for suspected COVID-19 or other serious health conditions. Telehealth is especially attractive because it allows providers to deliver the best possible care, while potentially flattening the curve of the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2.
More than 50 health systems in the U.S. have telehealth programs. These systems include automated workflows that triage moderate-to-high-risk patients to nurse triage lines and also allow patients to schedule video appointments with physicians and specialists to manage risk factors. Home testing to confirm diagnosis requires effort and coordination but limits the overall exposure of patients and providers throughout the process.
While reimbursement for telehealth is still evolving, it’s clear that telemedicine is seen by Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and other policy-makers as an essential tool in the fight against coronavirus. CMS has temporarily issued a blanket 1135 waiver to ensure that beneficiaries can more readily access care.
Private health plans are also clearing the way for telehealth during the pandemic. Plans such as Aetna, Cigna, and Blue Cross and Blue Shield announced wider availability of telehealth services; some insurers are even offering free telehealth services for COVID-19 for a period of time.
Still, telehealth isn’t a magical panacea. While telemedicine is an apt tool for routine care in normal times, with the currently overstressed healthcare system, its use for non-essential appointments will be limited.
For most people, a delayed or canceled appointment is not significant. However, for some patients with chronic conditions, a disruption in care can have notable consequences.
The effect of the pandemic on patients with chronic conditions
Patients with chronic conditions can’t ignore their health until COVID-19 is a thing of the past — not when having a chronic condition like high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, and COPD may make them more susceptible to life-threatening conditions such as COVID-19.
If anything, patients with chronic conditions need to be more diligent than the general population in managing their health. But, in times of uncertainty, it’s common to veer off course.
Outbreaks can be very stressful, which can contribute to the worsening of chronic conditions and mental health. Increased use of alcohol, tobacco, and drugs is very common.
Binge drinking 1 in 4
Taking prescription drugs for non-medical reason 1 in 5
Use of illicit drugs 1 in 7
The self-quarantining related to COVID-19 can also increase feelings of loneliness and affect the routines that keep people physically active.
It’s clear that patients could benefit from instructive information that provides hope and a course of action. The best source for this information is, admittedly, healthcare providers and health organizations. But while people rate the WHO, CDC, and doctors as the most trustworthy sources for COVID-19 health information, more people turn to television and online news for information.
Why is this? Is it the volume of information? The frequency of updates? Or perhaps it is the perceived relevance to their situation? Whatever the reason, patients are looking for more information than our healthcare system can provide.
Keep patients engaged (but keep it real)
Companies that support patient care have the opportunity to augment communications from trusted sources and to create an open dialog with patients about the impact of COVID-19 and the importance of focusing on their health.
To have a positive impact, communications must be relevant and reflect the current state of the world. Knowing your audience and anticipating their mindset can help you create a meaningful, personalized experience that comes across as helpful instead of self-serving.
For example, if patients are in high-risk groups for COVID-19, learning about treatments for QoL conditions is probably not a high priority — achieving an active lifestyle on vacation or spending time with grandchildren are not drivers at this point and time.
Instead, you may wish to highlight healthy habits that can counteract the impact of stress, inactivity, and other behaviors that can contribute to worsening health.
At the same time, it is important to reassure patients with chronic conditions that they will be able to receive advanced care for their chronic health conditions once the COVID-19 pandemic is under control. Patients may be feeling very frustrated that an advanced therapy or an elective procedure for their chronic disease may not be feasible in the immediate future.
Taking steps to receive treatment for a chronic condition is not easy. It may have taken years for some patients to talk to their doctor. Having a canceled appointment or procedure can feel like they are losing ground in a hard-fought battle for improved health.
By providing ongoing communication with patients during these uncertain times, you may provide the sliver of hope that inspires them to keep focused on their healthcare goals.
Keep in touch
If you’re looking for a way to remain in contact with the patients who are interested in your therapies, we can help. We offer a wide range of services to help you connect with your audiences including, strategy, content development, and even a call center.
Our ReadyPath care pathway automation platform is designed to provide support and education at every stage of a patient’s journey — from initial opt-in to learning more about therapy to ongoing reminders following a procedure or implant.
And, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, our ReadyPath solution is also being used to deliver patients within the care pathway tips to manage their healthcare risks while also remaining optimistic about future care. Contact us to learn more.