Preventive Care: Is it Safe Yet?

June 12, 2020 Jennifer Forster

For several months, the healthcare system and patients alike have focused their attention almost exclusively on COVID-19. As states begin to re-open, many people are now wondering whether it’s safe to reschedule appointments for preventive care. In most cases, the benefits associated with preventive care services outweigh the risk of contracting COVID-19 during a visit to a doctor’s office.

Taking Off the “COVID-19 Blinders”

As Dr. Reshma Gupta mentioned in a recent article, many doctors and patients have understandably been wearing “COVID-19 blinders.” For people with chronic conditions like heart disease and undiagnosed medical conditions, however, keeping those blinders on may exacerbate health issues. Resuming routine and preventive care is critical to staying healthy, especially with flu season approaching in a few months and the possibility of a second wave of COVID-19 emerging.

Now is the time to resume routine physicals, vaccinations and preventive health screenings like mammograms and colonoscopies, with appropriate precautions. And immunizations are especially important for children. During the COVID-19 lock-down, vaccines for measles and other diseases in the United States decreased significantly.

In California, for example, measles vaccinations have decreased 74% and between April 2019 and April 2020, childhood vaccinations overall decreased 40%. New York City saw a 63% reduction in vaccinations during the height of the pandemic. These are alarming statistics, since a drop in vaccination rates threatens herd immunity and increases the risk of the outbreaks of preventable diseases such as measles and pertussis, on the heels of the Coronavirus pandemic.

How Can Health Plans Help?

Member engagement campaigns are a great way for health plans to communicate with people about the importance of scheduling (or rescheduling) preventive care appointments. HMS’ Eliza makes these outreach campaigns easier than ever, with a wide range of preventive care programs that are ready for deployment. Email and text message content, as well as IVR phone scripts, are available for the following services:

  • Pediatric Care. HMS offers tailored programs for children of all ages, from newborns through adolescence, offering parents important reminders about recommended screenings and immunizations, including Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnostic and Treatment (EPSDT) benefits for Medicaid enrollees.
  • Adult Preventive Care. Preventive care programs also address adult members’ needs, including annual wellness visits, BMI assessments, and screenings for colorectal cancer, cervical cancer, breast cancer and chlamydia. In addition, plans have the ability to contact members about dental checkups and vision screenings.
  • Flu and Pneumonia Vaccinations. These immunizations will be more important this year than ever before. Public health authorities and healthcare practitioners are concerned that simultaneous seasonal flu and COVID-19 outbreaks could put lives at risk and stress hospitals in the coming months. Vaccinations are a proven way to minimize flu-related hospitalizations. With HMS’ Flu Immunization Outreach Program, health plans can quickly and efficiently convey the urgency of flu shots and address common misconceptions about the vaccination. Communicating information about where members can get flu shots should also be top of mind for health plans. Traditional vaccine venues like health fairs and workplace clinics are unlikely to be scheduled this year due to COVID-19. Flu vaccines alone may not be enough for older adults — health plans should also remind this population about the importance of pneumonia vaccinations.

In addition to engaging members about preventive care needs, plans may want to develop outreach campaigns to help people feel more comfortable about returning to their doctors’ offices. For example, it may be helpful to provide members with a list of questions to ask when they schedule medical or dental appointments, such as:

  • What should I expect when I come to the office? Will I and the staff need to wear masks at all times?
  • Where will I wait for my appointment? Will there be a limited number of people who can sit in the waiting room?
  • What sanitizing measures is the practice taking? How often are waiting rooms and offices cleaned?

While COVID-19 is still a reality nationwide, we must turn our attention now to returning safely to new forms of “life as usual.” An important part of our changed world is staying as healthy as possible. Avoiding healthcare out of fear isn’t the answer. Healthcare providers, health plans and patients all must take the plunge back into preventive care.

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