By Dr. David Severance, Chief Medical Officer, UnitedHealthcare of Colorado and Wyoming
As Colorado and the nation continue to navigate COVID-19, one thing seems certain — the pandemic has changed the way many of us have traditionally viewed and engaged with the health care system.
Many times, crises create an urgency to speed up innovations to meet consumers’ demands and provide convenience. COVID-19 has led to a few emerging trends that may usher in permanent changes to the ways we access health care.
1. Telehealth is here to stay.
Telehealth wasn’t new prior to COVID-19, but now many health insurance plans are encouraging it as an alternative to visiting care facilities in person, and we’re seeing adoption accelerate.
Specialty care is leveraging telehealth through prenatal visits, and recently UnitedHealthcare has made physical, occupational and speech therapies available.
Contactless care is likely to continue through virtual appointments in primary care, urgent care, disease management and behavioral health.
2. More people will receive care at home.
The response to the pandemic has created momentum around the concept of home-health. This idea relies heavily on the adoption of technology and advanced digital tools. Areas where home-health is advancing are chronic disease management and infusion services.
Conditions like diabetes and congestive heart failure can be remotely-monitored with digital tools like continuous glucose monitors (CGM) and activity trackers. Members can sync their devices to track progress, check their health data in real time, trade messages with a nurse care coach and share progress with their doctor.
Patients who need certain medications can tap home infusion services to reduce exposure risk. Typically, a nurse will come to the home and train the patient or caregiver on how to administer the drug. When infusion services are performed at home, it may help patients receive critical therapies without the cost and concerns associated going to a clinic or hospital.
Moving the site of care to the home may also be an opportunity to save money by avoiding the overhead costs of an in-patient hospital setting. We could also see more home-based oncology care, which is especially important for immunocompromised patients who still need treatment.
3. The role of a pharmacist is changing.
Pharmacists play an important role beyond medication management in a care team. When doctor’s offices are not available, pharmacists fill a gap in care.
States have been expanding pharmacists’ scope of practice, with a few granting pharmacists limited prescribing authority. More than 800 pharmacists in the United States are board-certified in infectious diseases.
Pharmacists are also integrating more with behavioral health. We’re starting to look at how we can help individuals with medication adherence and screening for depression through our pharmacies.
4. Americans may live healthier lifestyles.
COVID-19 represents a convergence of current and long-term threats to people health. Several chronic conditions — many both preventable and treatable — are risk factors for severe illness from COVID-19.
Heightened awareness around cleanliness and hygienic practices keep people healthier and avoid contagion — expanding the notion of good health to include cleanliness of the things people interact with daily.
COVID-19 has changed several aspects of health care, some for the better. These trends can help increase flexibility, convenience and access and may help more people get the care they need to live healthier lives.