January 5, 2021 | 2020 In Review: Telehealth and the Impact of COVID-19

Populations at Risk

Throughout 2020, we learned that everyone is susceptible to COVID-19, but some populations are more vulnerable to severe illness from it than others. According to the CDC, 8 out of 10 COVID-19-related deaths reported in the United States have been among adults aged 65 years and older. As people get older, the risk for severe illness from COVID-19 increases, making them more vulnerable to its dangerous symptoms. The risk for this population does not stop there.

People with chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, and COPD are at an increased risk of severe illness from the virus too. This becomes especially precarious as 80% of older adults have at least one chronic disease and 77% have at least two.

Furthermore, older patients who have contracted COVID-19 and have chronic conditions are more likely to develop a more severe course and progression of the disease. The Nature Public Health Emergency Collection found that those patient populations have an “increased admission rate into the intensive care unit (ICU) and mortality from the COVID-19 disease.” These patients typically have more deteriorating outcomes such as developing acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) and pneumonia. It is essential to protect this high-risk population and provide them with the proper care for their chronic illnesses and symptoms of COVID-19.


Related Resource: 4 Challenges Practices May Face When Reopening During a Pandemic

After months of disruption and uncertainty, practices are starting to contend with the idea of how to provide patients the healthcare they need, safely. In this blog, we outline four challenges practices may face when reopening during a pandemic and what many providers are doing to overcome them.


Patient Engagement

Social distancing and safety measures are changing the way patients interact and engage with healthcare. A study found 70% of patients are deferring or canceling treatment. Patient volume inside of practices has dropped by 60%. Patients are drastically changing how they interact with their practices, but there are ways practices can change with them.

Remote patient engagement and telehealth programs are valuable assets to implement during a pandemic. When implemented and fully optimized, IQVIA discovered that patient adherence rose as high as 90% with engagement programs that helped patients feel supported in their health management. These programs also help:

Programs such as chronic care management (CCM) and remote patient monitoring (RPM) are virtual care solutions that have been found to engage chronically ill patients with positive benefits. For example, Wellbox conducts both programs via telephonic interactions and maintains an 80% engagement rate.

Patients may be changing the way they engage with their healthcare, but there are virtual care programs that can support them and keep them involved with their health management. This is especially true for vulnerable populations at risk such as older adults with chronic conditions who could benefit from programs like CCM and RPM.


Healthcare Workers

Patient care programs cannot be delivered without the dedicated healthcare workers behind them, and they need just as much protection against COVID-19 as patients do. Every physician, nurse, physician assistant, paramedic, and support staff face a risk of contracting the virus. When it comes to protecting these healthcare workers, a Penn-led study suggests that hospital workers may be better protected than family physicians.

Workers in hospitals are likely to have better access to personal protective equipment (PPE) when handling COVID-19 cases. On the other hand, primary care doctors have been more likely to see patients with “early-stage, mild or asymptomatic—but still contagious—SARS-CoV-2 infection, while having little to no personal protective equipment,” said Penn Medicine News.

The researchers behind this study found that nearly 55% of the COVID-19 deaths in their sample population occurred among physicians. Additionally, among the physicians who died, 26.9% of them were general practitioners, family medicine, and primary care providers.

All frontline workers must be protected, especially primary physicians who may not have the proper PPE to protect themselves through their daily operations. Utilizing tools like telehealth and remote care solutions can help decrease exposure for doctors and protect them while they deliver care to their patients.

The Future of Telehealth

With the rise of COVID-19 cases and the need for social distancing, the growth of telehealth has surged over the past year. In a survey of HR executives, it was reported that 77% of respondents saw telehealth as a permanent change. Virtual care solutions have shown they can help patients and providers deliver healthcare, but they are most effective when they can be used to expand on traditional healthcare services.

In a report from the AHRQ, telehealth was found to benefit patients most when it’s used to expand on critical care, speed up emergency care decisions, and substitute some face-to-face care interactions. It specifically supports and improves these services:

The report further shows how the pandemic accelerated the use of RPM to treat mild cases of COVID-19. For example, some providers are using blood pressure cuffs, pulse oximeters and other devices to monitor their patients who are not ill enough to be hospitalized. This is just the beginning of RPM use and the expansion of telehealth services to protect patients, providers, and vulnerable populations at risk.

Virtual care solutions are the future of healthcare, and they are going to continue growing and improving how patient care is delivered. You can learn more about telehealth in our blog, Post-2020: The Future of Virtual Care Management, and in our eBook, 2020: The Year for Virtual Care Management.


Featured Resource: 2020: The Year for Virtual Care Management eBook

2020 was a year unlike any other. This couldn’t be truer for the healthcare industry, especially as the demand for virtual care services quickly grew because of COVID-19. In our latest eBook, we explore how the pandemic led to telehealth’s growth and the positive impact a few virtual care solutions had on providers during this time.


About the COVID-19 Healthcare Coalition

In mid-March of 2020, the COVID-19 Healthcare Coalition was established as a private-sector response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Assembled by nearly 1,000 member organizations, the Coalition includes healthcare organizations, technology companies, nonprofits, academia, and startups working together on strategies to preserve the healthcare system and to protect people. As a member of the Coalition, Wellbox works with the Coalition to collaboratively study, educate and treat vulnerable populations using remote and virtual healthcare. If you would like to learn more about the Coalition, visit their website, or learn more about what steps Wellbox is taking to protect patients and their health.

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