During the past two months, as the COVID-19 pandemic has put tremendous pressure on the healthcare system, many connected health regulations have been eased in an effort to promote the use of telehealth solutions to help manage patients during the crisis.  Many emergency responders and healthcare organizations have used telehealth to safely and efficiently screen and treat coronavirus patients.

But, in the wake of the pandemic and the nearly 1.4 million confirmed cases in the United States, it’s easy to lose sight of the millions of patients suffering from chronic health conditions who may not have access to the same level of care they are used to receiving.  For many, it’s a question of fear, due to a combination of widespread stay-at-home recommendations and the higher risk level associated with many chronic conditions.

More than half of patients with existing medical conditions are worried about in-person visits for treatment, and 10% even say they would forego the care they need to avoid the risk.  More than a third report disruptions in their chronic care during the pandemic.  Though the number of patients reporting a lack of access to medication is lower than those seeing care disruption, it’s still a problem for many, as 17% of patients suffering from chronic pain and 18% suffering from rheumatoid arthritis have had challenges getting medication.

These data all suggest an increased risk to patients.  If they are not able to receive the ongoing care or medication required to effectively treat their medical conditions, the chances of conditions worsening increases, potentially to the point where they could require hospitalization.  Without an imminent vaccine, and many projections for a second wave of breakouts, this has the potential to put an even greater burden on the healthcare system if providers have to deal with an influx of emergency patients.

That’s where connected health comes in and can play an important role in building physician-patient relationships and ensuring continuity of care.  The good news is that 40% of patients with chronic conditions have used telehealth during the coronavirus pandemic – but 60% have not.  That means there’s still a wide gap to close.

Virtual Visits –

In the absence of in-person visits, video allows physicians and patients to interact in a virtual setting.  The visual component not only allows physicians to see any physical characteristics associated with conditions, but visual communication tends to be more impactful than voice only.  Video technology can also help physicians and staff train patients to properly use monitoring devices and provide virtual demos, if needed.

Phone Calls –

Some patients may have the technical knowledge or the ability to have video conferences, and with distancing measures in place, it may not be feasible for family members to help them.  In many cases, simple phone calls to discuss conditions and to maintain connections with patients can help reassure patients and keep their treatment programs on track.  Regular phone check-ins can also help patients deal with loneliness and depression stemming from isolation and lack of regular routines.

Text/Email –

Patients and providers can even use text or email to deliver information, ask and respond to questions, and check in at any time, without needing to schedule a virtual visit.  This can be useful for maintaining ongoing interaction with patients, sending treatment or medication reminders, and asking non-urgent questions.

Remote Patient Monitoring –

There are many devices that can measure vital signs associated with chronic conditions.  Some are connected devices that transmit patient data directly to providers and into EHRs, and others require manual entry into patient portals or records.  The benefit is that patients are able to provide information about their conditions from their homes and without having to risk travel to doctors’ offices.  This data can provide valuable insight to providers, who can then communicate about any changes.

Care Coordination –

Many chronic care patients suffer from multiple conditions, which could require consultations and treatment coordination between multiple physicians or specialists.  Connected health solutions enable those doctors to share patient information and collaborate on patient care at a distance, and even engage in joint video or phone conferences with patients.

By their very nature, chronic conditions require ongoing management, which has become more difficult during the pandemic.  Connected health solutions can help bridge the gap between providers and patients without exposing them to unnecessary risk.   In fact, even when distancing guidelines are loosened and eventually, when situations stabilize, these technologies can continue to enable quality outcomes in more convenient settings.

To learn more about how connected health solutions can positively impact chronic disease care, visit us here.