Infectious Disease

In the midst of the pandemic, patients are showing more interest in their health

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A survey by CVS Health found that during the COVID-19 pandemic, patients are more concerned about receiving personalized health care and meeting their health goals.

Researchers conducted the survey of 1,000 adult patients and 400 doctors in March to better understand health care trends over the past 12 months.

A new survey suggests that patients are paying more attention to their health amid the pandemic.
Source: Adobe Stock

According to CVS Health, 77% of patients said the COVID-19 pandemic made them more focused on their own health, and 50% said that stay-at-home orders helped them meet their health goals.

The survey also showed trends in health care uptake, including a slight shift away from primary care. Routine care by primary care providers decreased from 62% in 2020 to 56% in 2021, with more patients using online resources (19% vs. 12%), community health centers (19% vs. 15%) and local pharmacies (17th % vs. 11%) in 2021 compared to 2020. In the last 12 months, 57% of patients stated that they had used virtual care for a health visit.

CVS Health President and CEO Karen S. Lynch said in a press release that the past 18 months have caused “a dramatic shift in healthcare consumer preferences and needs”.

“These shifts towards personalized care have the potential to impact our healthcare system well beyond the pandemic as many people take a more dedicated approach to their own health,” she said. “For the future, we have the opportunity to apply what we have learned and continue to promote an integrated health model that is oriented towards the needs of the individual.”

Opportunities for doctors

Despite a greater focus on health during the pandemic, many patients reported struggling with drug use and mental health. 21% of adult patients reported consuming more nicotine, 10% drank more alcohol and 10% consumed more opioids than in previous years. In addition, 35% of adults ages 18 to 34 reported depression and 28% mental illness in the last 12 months. According to the press release, this age group is the highest to report these diseases. Among 18- to 34-year-olds, 74% did not seek mental health services to treat their condition (s) and 28% cited costs as the reason.

Kyu Rhee, MD, MPP, Senior Vice President at CVS Health and Chief Medical Officer of Aetna told Healio Primary Care that the survey results highlight opportunities for clinicians to “leverage their close relationships with patients.”

Kyu Rhee

Rhee said 71% of health care providers who participated in the survey said that all or most of their patients are proactive in discussing or asking questions about their medications and associated costs, compliance, and adverse events. However, only 33% of patients discuss their socio-economic status. In addition, 80% of care providers said they “always or often” talk to their patients about the importance of taking medication, but only 44% discuss health care costs.

In adult patients:

  • 61% said their health care provider did not ask them about affordability of health care and / or discuss mechanisms that can help with health costs;
  • 25% said they had “little / no familiarity” with the out-of-pocket expenses they pay for medical care; and
  • 23% said they didn’t know how to look at their health plan to understand the expenses.

“Expanding virtual care offerings, prescribing generic drugs, or ensuring that the prescription matches a patient’s health plan, and ensuring that orders for services such as radiology and other testing include lower cost treatment locations that are covered by patient insurance are just a few of the possibilities that are there. Providers can help improve accessibility and affordability, ”said Rhee.

Gender differences in health trends

The survey also showed differences in the ways women and men use health care and well-being during the pandemic. According to the data:

  • 27% of women usually used nurses to get health information, compared with 21% of men;
  • 73% of women saw annual health checkups as a reason to communicate with their PCPs, compared with 58% of men;
  • 86% of women wanted PCPs to know about their alcohol consumption, compared with 79% of men;
  • 68% of women said they were “happy” with their social connections during the COVID-19 pandemic, compared with 80% of men; and
  • 70% of men said the COVID-19 pandemic had a “high / medium impact” on the stress associated with caring for children who live at home, compared with 59% of women.

The survey also showed that 25% of men said they would go to an emergency room or emergency clinic for “routine care for a mild illness,” compared with 18% of women, Rhee said.

This particular data point gives GPs “a clear opportunity to more proactively involve their male patients in their own health care,” said Rhee.

“Doctors can also give their patients easier access to medical care through virtual health services; learn to better afford their medications, tests, and other health care; and access to community resources for mental health and other important health needs, ”he said.

References:

CVS health. The new CVS health study shows people have more control over their health as a result of the pandemic. https://cvshealth.com/news-and-insights/press-releases/new-cvs-health-study-finds-people-are-taking-greater-control-of. Accessed July 15, 2021.

CVS health. The 2021 Health Care Insights Study (Executive Summary). https://cvshealth.com/sites/default/files/cvs-health-health-care-insights-study-2021-report-executive-summary.pdf. Accessed July 15, 2021.

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Margot L. Savoy, MD, MPH, FAAFP)

Margot Savoy, MD, MPH

I disagree with some of CVS Health’s conclusions. I suspect you will find a lot of aspects of this interesting and there is certainly a lot to unzip.

It is too early to really understand the long-term impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on society or the healthcare system. Of course, the effects of the pandemic are not limited to the infection / consequences alone. The interruption in service delivery posed exceptional challenges to access to health care for both acute and chronic conditions. The effects of these delays in care may not be recognized in the years to come.

Despite unprecedented widespread access to telemedicine, the persistent lack of access to psychiatric care is untenable. Without investing in sustainable primary care infrastructure that can work with public health to meet community needs, we are in trouble as a nation. It’s hard to say which aspects of care will remain as our new normal. The report points to new avenues for access to care; however, many of them are dependent on post-pandemic payment models. Telemedicine was in great demand at the height of the pandemic, when the fear of face-to-face visits was great and copays did not exist. With the world reopening and the return of cost sharing, the demand for telemedicine in many primary care practices has declined as patients choose to return to the practice for face-to-face care.

Margot Savoy, MD, MPH

Healio Primary Care Peer Perspective Board Member
Associate Professor of Family and Community Medicine at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine, Temple University

Disclosure: Savoy does not report any relevant financial information.

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Alexander Kowalski, DO)

Alexander Kowalski, DO

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are deeply felt and widespread. Many patients have experienced increases in mood disorders, sleep-related problems, healthy eating and exercise, and the data reported here reflects this fact.

Many of my patient visits over the past year have focused on precisely these issues. Hopefully, the increased awareness and focus on self-care will enable patients to use new strategies in the future. The more people vaccinated, the better personal events and social interactions become. The expansion of mental health benefits has helped many patients and will hopefully continue.

The availability and access to telemedical services is a huge improvement for many patients and enables us, as service providers, to see patients more frequently and in their home environment. Cost and insurance protection remain the key factor for the progress of telemedicine. Telemedicine instruments paired with patients’ interest in home monitoring devices enable unprecedented insights into the health of patients. Patient preference and access to doctors are likely to drive these forward even as the pandemic subsides.

Alexander Kowalski, DO

Healio Primary Care Peer Perspective Board Member
Assistant Professor, Associate Program Director, and Medical Director, Rowan Family Medicine of Stratford and Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine

Disclosure: Kowalski does not report any relevant financial information.

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