According to the Center for Consumer Information & Insurance Oversight, approximately 82 million Americans with health insurance through their employer have a pre-existing condition, such as cancer, diabetes, asthma, or heart disease.
As a type 1 diabetic, I fall into this group, experiencing new and complicated road blocks because of the coronavirus. The current shelter-in-place order has impacted every aspect of how I manage my diabetes, from stocking up on medications and medical supplies to finding new ways to exercise indoors. With the added stresses on the healthcare ecosystem, I am also concerned about my care options if a potential complication requires me to seek medical attention, such a getting a bad cut or having severe blood sugar lows and highs. I know that I am not alone.
My colleague Rachael Adler authored a compelling piece about how the healthcare industry is reaching a tipping point with telehealth. She notes, “As the pandemic shifts us into a digital world, it’s strikingly clear that providers must continue to deliver as much care as possible virtually.” This rings even more true for those of us living with a pre-exisiting condition.
My Telehealth Journey
Although I am taking the appropriate steps to stay healthy, I still need to have routine check-ups with my physicians, so I was initially concerned about missing appointments. Thankfully, my insurance provider, Cigna, along with G&S Human Resources MD Kate Threewitts, prioritized communication about telehealth services. My health provider also swiftly reached out to offer telehealth options and guided me through setting up the apps on my mobile device. They worked with me to reschedule my in-office appointments for any tests I might need in the coming months.
While I was fortunate enough to learn about my options quickly, a recent study conducted by Opinium on behalf of G&S Business Communications found that 82% of Americans do not think telehealth is currently available to them. Clearly, there is a gap between these critical healthcare services and the patients like myself who must rely on them to sustain their health in a crisis situation.
A Message to Healthcare Providers
From a patient with a pre-exisiting condition: Please, communicate early and often. Telehealth services don’t need to be reserved for payers and hospitals. Individual practitioners and specialists should explore all options for appointments that can be conducted virtually.
In order to keep the population healthy during this crisis, connecting with patients is critical. There is so much more to helping patients than protecting them from the coronavirus, including a range of other health concerns that providers cannot afford to neglect.
Getting Informed and Staying Healthy
Patients must also advocate for their own health. Don’t suffer with symptoms or bear complications with access to medicines during this time. Be proactive and take these measures to take control of your health management.
- Call your doctor. Reach out to your provider to see if they have telehealth capabilities or can refer you to a provider who does. You should not postpone a check-up if it’s not absolutely necessary.
- Explore your options. If your provider does not offer a telehealth option, check out your local urgent care center. There may be physicians available to handle standard medical needs and prescriptions quickly and efficiently.
- Take advantage of your insurance plan. Read up on your health policy and speak with a customer service representative to understand what’s covered. In the wake of the pandemic, payers and providers have expanded access to telehealth, so be sure to learn what options you have available.
- Don't ignore your mental health. The stress of dealing with a medical issue or the anxiety of postponing a medical visit can put an enormous strain on your mental well-being. To help ease anxieties and stress, explore options for virtual therapy or telehealth counseling.
We have enough challenges with the coronavirus. Avoiding medical appointments doesn’t have to be one of them. If you or a loved one is managing a pre-existing condition, your care should not have to wait for the resolution of the pandemic. Payers, providers and employers can communicate about resources and offer options for telehealth to help provide continuity of care. Patients, too, can feel empowered to seek out answers, wielding telehealth as a tool for maintaining quality care and restoring peace of mind – even as your check-ins with your provider have moved to the safety of your living room.