At a virtual conference hosted last month by the Milken Institute, which aims to create economic solutions to contemporary healthcare challenges, experts explored some post-COVID realities starting to materialize. Tragically, the various crises wrought by the pandemic, especially overwhelmed health systems, kept many patients from the care they needed. This includes people with diabetes and heart disease, as well as cancer patients who will now be diagnosed and treated later than they would have otherwise.
As American Medical Association president Susan Bailey said, “People are ignoring serious things like chest pain and appendicitis that can be treated early and safely.” An estimated 42% fewer people went to an ER last April than in April 2019. Similarly, since the start of the pandemic, calls to EMS have dropped by 26%. It seems that the exigencies of the crisis kept even many should-be patients away from the doctor’s office.
This phenomenon has its direst implications in oncology. The National Cancer Institute analyzed the COVID-related lags in identifying and treating tumors. Their model predicts that, in the coming decade, that there will be an additional 10,000 deaths in the U.S. from breast and colorectal cancer alone.
So, even as COVID-19 continues to spread, it’s critical for people to stay connected to their healthcare providers. As CVS Health’s Garth Graham said, “Self-care means social distancing, but it also means going to see the doctor.” One way of doing so that’s particularly suited for the moment is telemedicine.
Demographic disparities are already clear regarding access to telemedicine, with minorities and seniors often lacking the digital tools or facility to obtain care remotely. But many providers are finding that their new ways of work — telemedicine in particular — are uniquely effective and efficient. According to two Syneos Health studies, 59% of HCPs set up a telemedicine platform in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. 17% more followed suit by May.
Due to COVID, physicians may have to continue using it in such large numbers for some time. But, at this point, 90% of adopters indicate that they’ve grown comfortable with their tele-practice, and by and large HCPs feel that such platforms actually increase patient access. It seems that the value of telemedicine is a major lesson HCPs and patients have learned from this experience. Eventually, we will be safely past the pandemic, and it looks like these critical digital platforms will be a big part of business as usual.