Social Distancing – A Doubled Edged Sword for Members with Chronic Health Issues

April 13, 2020 HMS

Coronavirus is a major health issue for all people, but it is particularly worrisome for individuals with chronic health issues. Experts have found that when people with conditions like diabetes, as well as heart, lung and kidney disease contract COVID-19, they are more likely to end up in the hospital and require a ventilator.

Social distancing just makes sense for this segment of the population. These measures, however, can also create medical concerns. In many cases, important periodic health checkups have been cancelled to limit vulnerable patients’ exposure to the virus. In a time of social distancing, individuals with chronic diseases may also become less vigilant with their medication adherence.

It’s essential to remember that social distancing doesn’t have to mean social isolation. Health plans can provide valuable information to members with chronic health issues through targeted outreach campaigns. This type of initiative might include:

  • Alternatives to in-person health checkups. Options may include phone or video calls with a care manager, nurse or physician. Members may be able to upload helpful data, such as blood sugar readings, to an online portal for care team members to evaluate.
  • Reminders to take and also renew important medications. To help members maintain medication adherence, plans can send emails, phone or text messages about the importance of taking prescription drugs. Reminders about renewing prescription drugs before they run out is also advisable. Some insurers have eased their schedules for authorizing refills, in light of the pandemic. If your plan has implemented these types of changes, it’s a good idea to notify members right away.
  • Information about how to contact a care manager. Although members with chronic health issues may be discouraged from visiting their doctor’s office, it makes sense to proactively notify them about how to contact a care manager if they need medical advice or help. Having this information on hand can make people feel less alone during this period of uncertainty.

Best Practices for Outreach Campaigns

As your health plan develops an outreach campaign for members with chronic health issues, you may want to keep four things in mind:

  1. Use the communication methods preferred by members. Some may be most comfortable with email messages, while others prefer text messages, phone calls, or voicemails. In some instances, direct mail can be a good idea.
  2. Keep information clear and easy to understand. This is a stressful time and everyone feels bombarded with information from various sources. Focus on conveying clear information that comes from trustworthy authorities like the CDC or state/local health departments.
  3. Provide information that helps people feel like they are in control of measures that they must take. Having a chronic illness can be frustrating, since much is out of the individual’s control. Add the concerns and complexities of a pandemic to that and things can feel overwhelming. Providing clear, comprehensive information about ways to stay healthy can help members with chronic illnesses regain a sense of control.
  4. Offer information in different languages. Delivering valuable, proactive advice means providing members with information through culturally adapted translations. Health plans should avoid “one-to-one” translations of crucial information which can result in confusing or incorrect information.

To stay healthy during this pandemic, people with chronic health conditions are voluntarily electing to distance themselves. This doesn’t mean, however, that they are avoiding information and interaction with others. Health plans must play their part and provide members in this population with useful and actionable recommendations. A thoughtfully designed outreach campaign is a proven way to accomplish this goal. If your organization needs help to organize this type of initiative, HMS is here to help.

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