Five Aspects of Health Care That Are Evolving In Response to COVID-19
Six months ago, if someone had uttered the phrases “social distancing” or “essential workers” or “flattening the curve” or “contactless delivery,” they would have been met with confused looks. Now, these phrases and others related to the global COVID-19 pandemic pepper our conversations and the articles and posts we read online.
Of course, it’s not only our language that is evolving along with the coronavirus mutations. Health care has already experienced an incredible upheaval, and no doubt there will be many more permanent changes to the way we see our doctor and receive medical treatment before we’ve conquered COVID. Let’s take a look at a few of the trends in healthcare that are rapidly evolving.
Telemedicine and Virtual Doctor Visits
Telemedicine services aren’t a product of the pandemic. They have been on the rise for the past several years; in fact, the concept dates back to the very earliest days of the telephone. Just three years after the phone’s invention, an article in The Lancet discussed the possibility of using telephone calls to reduce in-person doctor visits.
Luckily, the medical community already had the infrastructure in place to support the spike in telemedicine solutions prompted by COVID-19. It’s been relatively easy, in many cases, for medical professionals to pivot and provide care remotely.
Naturally, not all illnesses, injuries, or health issues can be diagnosed or treated using an app or online portal. However, this option is convenient for both provider and patient, and therefore frees up medical personnel to devote more time and attention to the in-person visits they do have.
A Rise in Un- and Under-Insured Americans
Heath insurance, who deserves access to it, and how it is paid for were already hot-button issues for many Americans even as the coronavirus emerged. Nearly 30 million people in the U.S. were uninsured going into 2020, and experts expect that number to increase drastically, by perhaps as much as half again.
The long-term implications of the pandemic and its consequential financial fallout remain to be seen, but we can expert healthcare reform to inform political campaigns not only for the 2020 election cycle, but most likely for years to come. Will sweeping changes eventually overhaul the insurance industry? Will new and innovative solutions for the uninsured – including telehealth subscription services – begin to replace old-fashioned primary care providers as the predominant model of healthcare?
House Calls Are Making a Comeback
Most Gen-Xers and Millennials are only familiar with “house calls” from watching old television shows or movies. However, they may soon get to experience this type of care themselves – as house calls are switching from “bygone” to “back again.”
In-home healthcare never really went away, of course. Visiting nurses and healthcare aides have always been coming to patients’ homes, particularly for patients who are elderly, disabled, recovering from surgery, terminally ill, or otherwise unable to travel to their physicians’ offices.
Yet now that even entering a public space could potentially put someone at risk, house calls as a more widely available service as poised to increase.
Pharmacy Delivery Services
Just as with telehealth and house calls, pharmacies that deliver medications to patients’ doorsteps are also not a new idea. As a result of the coronavirus, however, pharmacies are stepping up their service level to provide customers with the easiest possible access to prescriptions and over-the-counter medications.
And then there are compounding services, which have a long and rich history but are also on the brink of an explosion in popularity. What is compounding? You can think of them like custom-made medications. Rather than being prescribed an off-the-shelf pharmaceutical drug, the patient consults with a compounding pharmacist to get a solution tailor-made to their situation.
This approach allows patients to receive exactly the right dose and the best delivery method of whatever medication their doctor has prescribed. If a patient is allergic to a specific type of filler, has trouble swallowing tablets, experiences poor absorption, or has any other issues with taking a premade medication, a compounding pharmacist can come to the rescue. Pinpoint accuracy and bioavailability improve not just the pharmaceutical aspect of treatment itself, but also the likelihood of patient compliance and overall satisfaction.
Changes to Cold and Flu Season
As if the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 wasn’t enough, it will only be a few months before we are once again facing traditional cold and flu season. How will the continued presence of coronavirus affect the rate and severity of other respiratory infections?
Epidemiologists say two distinct – and diametrically opposed – outcomes are possible. First, we could be facing a double threat that will overburden an already stretched-thin medical system. Some hospitals are already taking precautions and making plans to increase capacity in advance of flu season.
On the other side of the equation, however, is the possibility that cases of influenza will be dramatically lower this year. This is especially true in areas of the country where personal protective equipment usage is the norm, and where social distancing is socially acceptable. Increased hand-washing, stay-at-home mandates, and mandatory mask wearing may help many of us steer clear of colds and flu as well as protecting us from cases of COVID.
Only Time Will Tell
Predictions and trends are one thing, but if we’ve learned anything over the past few months, it’s that nothing even remotely connected with the coronavirus is set in stone. So much has changed about our everyday lives, and many more aspects will doubtless evolve as the months pass, but we simply don’t know yet what the legacy of COVID will eventually play out.
Have you used a telemedicine service or a pharmacy delivery service? What do you think will happen in the fall, when we typically see a spike in flu cases? Are you concerned about your insurance coverage? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!