The Impact of Delayed Care Due to the Covid-19 Pandemic and 3 Steps for Employers to Take to Support Their Covered Members

The COVID-19 pandemic has had enormous adverse effects in the US in terms of human suffering including the death of over 560,000 individuals, substantial economic losses, and a major disruption in the social fabric of the nation.  For the health care system in 2020, the pandemic led to a sharp decline in the use of health services including doctor and hospital visits, lab tests, recommended screenings, and a virtual cessation of elective procedures during the initial phase of the pandemic.  Indeed, survey data suggests that 3 in 5 US adults avoided or delayed in-person health care.  Patients were appropriately dissuaded from visiting a physician’s office or hospital clinic as part of public health precautions that included social distancing to reduce potential exposure to the virus.  However, the practice of delaying or deferring treatment to some later date is likely to have resulted in a decline in health status for many patients, especially those with chronic conditions.  As an example, it is estimated that lapses in patients meeting care standards for cancer screenings and treatments may result in more than 10,000 excess deaths in the next decade for colorectal and breast cancers alone.

Through the unprecedented effort of the scientific community, we are now beginning to reap the benefits of the rapidly developed and proven-effective vaccines in terms of reducing the incidence of new cases and, importantly, the severity of infection including lower risk of hospitalization and death.  However, distribution of the vaccine to all US citizens remains a major challenge and requires massive infrastructure support and effective communication campaigns.  Employer Health plans can play an important role in supporting vaccine distribution, access to virtual care services until such time as in-person visits for healthcare services is more widely available and promote and encourage patients with chronic conditions to maintain necessary testing and prevention services.

Three steps for employers are recommended:

  1. Encourage, educate, and incentivize vaccination

    Highlighting the benefits of vaccination to promote the safety and wellbeing of all employees and their families is a positive, effective message.  If feasible, allow employees time off to get the vaccine.  Some employers are offering an incentive for employees to receive the vaccine.

  2. Promote telehealth and virtual visits where appropriate

    One lesson learned from the pandemic is the value of virtual care such as tele-video consultations and virtual clinic visits.  Patients appreciate the convenience of telehealth and providers can benefit from fewer no-shows and are beginning to see the value of remote patient monitoring.

  3. Engage high risk populations to maintain necessary screenings and prevention services to mitigate higher costs down the road

    The value of maintaining routine screenings and prevention services is to reduce worsening health conditions for patients and thereby stem the tide of more costly claims for medical services due to complications.  It is a win-win situation for patients and employer health plans.

To learn more about the program Abacus Health Solutions recently had validated click here

by David K. Ahern, PhD, Senior Scientist, Abacus Health Solutions