Keep Calm and Care On: Protecting Our Most Vulnerable Population from COVID-19 through Telehealth

by | Apr 16, 2020 | Blog

The US now has 614, 180 known cases of COVID-19 in the US, with 26,061 deaths attributable to the virus. The real number, though, is believed to be much higher due to the shortage of testing kits and the length of time a person can be contagious with no symptoms. As our national, state, and local authorities take proactive measures to stem the spread, they urge Americans to be especially protective of our most vulnerable population: those over 65 who have underlying health issues, which is the vast majority. According to the National Council on Aging, 80% of those over 65 have at least one chronic condition, and 77% have at least two.

To protect this vulnerable population, there are three primary actions that need to be taken.

  1. First, we need to ensure those at risk are not exposed to the virus by coming into a provider’s office unnecessarily.
  2. Second, we need a way to effectively assess and triage patients outside of the physician’s office or clinic.
  3. And third, we need a way to stay engaged with these patients to continuously monitor their condition.

This is especially important for the elderly who’ve been quarantined in many respects, for this population the isolation itself can be worse than the virus. According to the National Institute on Aging, “Research has linked social isolation and loneliness to higher risks for a variety of physical and mental conditions: high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, a weakened immune system, anxiety, depression, cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease, and even death.”

Although warranted, these recommendations can be challenging for providers and staff who are taxed with taking patient calls, managing requests for tests and appointments, and diagnosing and triaging anxious patients. The last thing a provider wants is for elderly patients—some of whom may not be showing symptoms—to fall through the cracks. Fortunately, there is a way to manage it all more effectively and with less stress: chronic care management (CCM) and remote patient management (RPM) services.

Partnering with industry experts can relieve already overwhelmed staff while making sure the most vulnerable patients are contacted and assessed. Teams of certified clinicians can quickly identify those with actual COVID-19 symptoms and get an appointment scheduled on their behalf. They can also help manage the patient’s arrival based on office protocols, such as using a designated door or going to a specific location to check-in. This reduces patient confusion as well as exposure for your staff and other patients.   And maybe most importantly, they can be a regular point of connection during a period of intentional isolation.

Getting Through This Together

There are multiple actions in place now for healthcare facilities and for the general public. Most areas of the country are at low risk right now. And for high risk areas, healthcare organizations are moving rapidly to address the potential crisis. What we do know is that this is a viral illness that is mild in 80% of patients.

For those who do test positive, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend all patients testing positive for COVID-19 be quarantined for 14 days. Otherwise, healthy individuals should be able to care for themselves during that period of time, staying hydrated and active with periodic check-ins with their providers. But that may not be the case for the elderly population, or those with chronic, complex conditions—especially if they are living alone. Their condition can escalate quickly, with breathing issues and high fever resulting in complications, hospital admissions, or worse. This group requires a higher level of care including continuous monitoring and engagement. But this is a resource-intensive, time-consuming process.

Partnering with RPM experts can ensure every patient receives regular contact to make sure they’re progressing and following their prescribed care plan. They can also use remote RPM technology to proactively monitor daily incoming vitals such as oxygen saturation and heart rate. This enables clinicians to assess and triage patients who fall outside the established parameters. RPM also keeps inbound calls from anxious patients to a minimum.

It’s a fact that this pandemic has stressed our healthcare system beyond anything experienced to date. Doctors, nurses, and other clinicians put their own lives on the line as they selflessly care for those in need. Partnering with a third-party vendor can help protect the most vulnerable among us while alleviating the stress on caregivers—giving everyone greater peace of mind.

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