The impact of the coronavirus crisis is shining a bright light on many of the challenges facing the U.S. healthcare system.
So much more than a lack of primary care physicians and hospital beds, the all-hands-on-deck approach to combating the spread of COVID-19 has forced patients fearful of engaging with the healthcare system for needs unrelated to the virus to put elective procedures, routine care and timely treatment for chronic or critical conditions on the back burner.
Compounding these issues, fears surrounding visiting the doctor’s office have forced primary care facilities to lay off or furlough clinicians and staff, deferring or skipping clinician salaries in some cases. When it comes to epidemic illness, primary care professionals serve as the first line of defense, preventing patients from flooding emergency rooms and hospitals when they don’t actually need to be there. However, in spite of the need for access to affordable primary care, many primary care practices will not survive the pandemic.
Despite new CDC guidance showing people with underlying medical conditions like diabetes or hypertension are at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19, most regular wellness check-ups, cancer screenings, and nonemergency procedures have been put on hold. While COVID-19 is responsible for more than 140,000 deaths in the U.S. alone, experts predict this delay in care for chronically ill patients has resulted in a “silent” death-toll — and one that continues to climb as the world waits for a vaccine.
In the meantime, what can hospitals and clinics in the U.S. do to better serve chronic care patients and ensure no one else falls through the cracks during the pandemic?
Healthcare generates a lot of data for patient records. It’s crucial that hospitals and medical clinics have the ability to analyze that data to identify and categorize vulnerable patients who are either:
– high-risk due to potential coronavirus-related complications or
– require regular check-ups because of care related to chronic illness, mental health, or addiction.
Facing the aforementioned barriers to primary care and treatments, many chronic and crisis care patients are exponentially more vulnerable to the impact of the virus. Even if these patients do not contract COVID-19, the regression that can happen when a condition is not properly managed can be equally dangerous.
Data analysis that allows healthcare providers to stratify patient population risk and engage patients based on care needs provides caretakers the information they need to create personalized treatment plans that ensure the needs of chronic and crisis care patients are not neglected.
Safe and Continuous Outreach
Healthcare clinics that traditionally rely on in-office visits are now scrambling to provide access to their patients through telemedicine and virtual visits while navigating the challenging new landscape of billing codes and payment rules for these services. Previously derided as less than effective medicine, telemedicine, and virtual visits have become necessary to reduce staff exposure, preserve personal protective equipment (PPE) and minimize the impact of patient surges on facilities.
Because systems have had to adjust the way they triage, evaluate and care for patients through the use of methods that do not depend on in-person services, telehealth, and virtual care services are helping provide necessary care to at-risk patients while minimizing the transmission risk of the virus that causes COVID-19 to healthcare personnel and other patients.
From phone calls and telemedicine appointments to apps, surveys, and regular check-ins, advances in technology empower hospitals and clinics to prioritize relationships that build the foundation enabling continuity of care, even using a new channel to communicate. Through proactive communication with patients about helpful resources and the option for virtual visits, providers can see significant success in their commitment to continued engagement with — and care for — patients.
Dedicated Patient Advocacy
Good patient-provider relationships foster better communication, which drives improved health and wellness. As such, it’s important that hospitals and clinics have ongoing and dedicated patient advocates to reach out to high-risk and chronic care patients.
By serving as the link between a patient’s care provider and the real world, patient advocates strive to ensure that patients have access to the care and resources they need. Whether that involves access to prescriptions, medical supplies, food, financial assistance, mental health programs, or workforce navigation, care coordination needs to extend beyond simple community referrals.
In the face of a global pandemic, patients often face complicated decisions concerning their health and overwhelming obstacles to receiving care. Ongoing, dedicated patient advocacy offers guidance that helps patients navigate the complicated health system, ensuring they get the care and support they need throughout the continuing COVID-19 outbreak.
Despite efforts to safely reopen businesses and get employees back to work, the virus itself has not gone away. With practitioners fearing the spread of the disease, patients afraid to keep their in-person appointments and clinicians being redirected to emergency rooms or coronavirus test sites, primary care doctors are seeing their patients far less frequently, and patients are struggling to effectively maintain their health.
That strain on the primary care system will continue. However, by moving to value-based care models, such as advanced primary care, that leverage data, and analytics to identify and categorize vulnerable patients, facilitate safe and continuous outreach to these patients through telemedicine and other virtual means and have dedicated patient advocates reaching out to high-risk and chronic care patients, hospitals and clinics can continuously serve their most vulnerable patients throughout the duration of the coronavirus crisis.
About Dr. Kayur Patel
Dr. Kayur Patel serves as Chief Medical Officer of Proactive MD. A practicing physician with extensive experience in internal and emergency medicine, his specialty lies in bringing physicians and hospital leadership together in order to convert healthcare challenges into opportunities for growth. He is a nationally-recognized authority and a national speaker on the subject of quality in healthcare.