COVID-19 has prompted clinicians to change the way they care and reallocate resources to address the most pressing needs on a global scale.1 Patients with diseases ranging from Parkinson’s to chronic pain have had to wait longer for necessary interventions and Treatments. As a result, many have experienced higher levels of pain, depression, and an overall lower quality of life
This problem is compounded by the fact that patients with neurological conditions, including movement disorders, and those with chronic conditions appear to be at higher risk for COVID-193, but may not be ready to seek medical intervention in the middle of the pandemic This reluctance has made certain chronic diseases create urgent health problems
But it’s not all bad news.
The challenges that COVID-19 brings with it are the global introduction of digital and telemedical platforms, especially for patients with chronic diseases. A recent survey by McKinsey & Company found that around 90% of doctors offer virtual appointments and plan to continue offering virtual care in the future.5 US consumer adoption of telehealth has also increased from 11% in 2019 to more than that Up four times that today
Using technology to monitor and share medical data is not a new concept. Healthcare providers have used telemedicine to monitor patients with chronic diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and lung diseases. During the pandemic, Telehealth helped treat almost all medical conditions, including ongoing treatment for a physical illness or condition (44%) and assessing suspected COVID-19 infections (30%). 7th
Telehealth could become a long-term option for people with neurological disorders if platforms beyond the initial pandemic response are made accessible, affordable and offered in sustainable models. To achieve this, providers need a data-driven approach to develop strategies that digitally enhance the health journey and improve patient outcomes. For example, Bluetooth communication between an implanted neuromodulation device and the user’s programmer can now enable secure information transfer that enables clinicians to remotely consult patients and treat debilitating chronic pain
Another example is deep brain stimulation (DBS), which is often used to treat Parkinson’s disease and essential tremors. Recent advances in DBS systems allow clinicians to access, program, and monitor results on a DBS system using Bluetooth wireless technology. Patients with chronic pain also have the option to consult a doctor, track their pain levels, and adjust management accordingly, without the need for short-term acute measures to manage their condition.
The benefits of digital care and telehealth don’t end there, however. Connectivity technology can also help people in rural communities where access to specialized care is not always easy. Healthcare provider shortages have emerged in rural communities due to hospital closures and the relocation of doctors to urban areas.9 As a result, patients have had to keep traveling for care, adding to the burden on seniors and low-income Americans.10 Excluding Alternative solutions such as digital and telehealth options make these populations more likely to delay or forego necessary care
Technology will drive innovation in healthcare.
The COVID-19 pandemic shows the value of investing in technology that will help patients and doctors make health decisions that will fit seamlessly into their lives. This includes developing digital health solutions that reduce the burden of chronic diseases, exploring how proven technologies can be used in new ways, and determining how these innovations can be used in conjunction with increasingly intelligent technologies. With decades of safety and effectiveness in supporting neuromodulation therapies, manufacturers are investigating how electrochemicals can expand possibilities in other areas, such as chronic postoperative pain.
Doctors and patients alike need to understand that the trend towards telemedicine and digital health is likely to continue and affect practice. As many patients with chronic disease strive for healthier lifestyles, the improved connectivity of these approaches will be used to talk to doctors about minor issues and be proactive with management. Such skills can potentially resolve signs and symptoms that if not activated, could otherwise lead to more serious conditions.
In addition, the continued integration of digital health functions will enable more individual, patient-oriented therapy. Through the use of data, artificial intelligence and machine learning, future neuromodulation therapies can address the specific needs of the individual. This would let doctors know who could benefit from these advanced and integrated treatment platforms.
Now is the time to help patients and providers take advantage of digital and remote health options. The shift in the market to more user-friendly technologies may allow people with chronic pain to live beyond their debilitating conditions and maintain hope in this unprecedented time.
Disclosure: Keith Boettiger is President of Abbott Neuromodulation.
1. Eccleston C, Blyth FM, Lieber BF, et al. Treating Patients With Chronic Pain During The COVID-19 Outbreak: Considerations For Rapid Adoption Of Remote (eHealth) Pain Management Services. Pain J Online. 2020; 161 (5): 889- 893
2. Lynch ME, Campbell FA, Clark AJ et al. A systematic review of the effects of waiting on chronic pain management. Pain. 2008; 136 (1-2): 97-116.
3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. People with certain medical conditions. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/people-with-medical-conditions.html. Updated December 1, 2020. Accessed December 21, 2020.
4. Mauro V, Lorenzo M, Paolo C, Sergio H. Treat all COVID 19 positive patients but don’t forget the negative ones with chronic diseases. Intern Emerg Med. Published online June 9, 2020. doi: 10.1007 / s11739-020-02395-z
5. Gibler K., Kattan O., Malani R., Medford-Davis L. Medical Employment: The Way Forward in the COVID-19 Era. McKinsey and Company Healthcare Systems and Services. Published July 17, 2020. Accessed December 21, 2020. https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/healthcare-systems-and-services/our-insights/physician-employment-the-path-forward-in- the- Covid-19 era
6. Bestsennyy O., Gilbert G., Harris A., Rost J. Telehealth: A Quarter Trillion Dollar Reality After COVID-19? McKinsey and Company Healthcare Systems and Services. Published May 29, 2020. Accessed December 21, 2020. https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/healthcare-systems-and-services/our-insights/telehealth-a-quarter-trillion-dollar-post- covid- 19-reality #
7th Prize Cooper Waterhouse. The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting consumer health behavior. Do the changes stay here? Published April 2020. Accessed December 21, 2020. https://www.pwc.com/us/en/library/covid-19/covid-19-consumer-behavior.html
8th Prize Cooper Waterhouse. The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting consumer health behavior. What does this mean for healthcare providers? Published May 2020. Accessed December 21, 2020. https://www.pwc.com/us/en/library/covid-19/pdf/pwc-us-health-covid-19-survey-healthcare-providers_5- 11. pdf
9. Abbott receives FDA approval for an iOS-compatible app that enables people with chronic pain and movement disorders to personalize therapy on their mobile device [news release]. Abbott Park, IL. Abbott; July 23, 2020. https://abbott.mediaroom.com/2020-07-23-Abbott-Receives-FDA-Approval-for-iOS-Compatible-App-Allowing-People-Living-With-Chronic-Pain-and Movement disorders for personalization therapy via your mobile device. Accessed December 21, 2020.
10. Majerol M., Nadler J., Schulte A. Closing the gap between rural and urban health: bringing virtual health to rural communities. Deloitte. November 27, 2019. https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/insights/industry/public-sector/virtual-health-telemedicine-rural-areas.html. Accessed December 21, 2020.