People with chronic health care conditions like asthma, diabetes, hypertension and compromised immune systems are being told that they are among the most vulnerable populations that could become seriously ill from COVID-19 and should stay inside as much as possible.
But at the same time, these people also need to see health care providers more frequently, get medicine and receive other treatment. Health care providers have been rapidly trying to adapt to the new world order.
“We’re building the plane as we fly it,” said Dr. Richard Bruno, a physician with Chase Brexton Health Care. “We have rolled out our telehealth platform, so we are doing the best we can to keep people at home and do face-to-face video encounters with them.”
COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, has been particularly deadly for people with underlying conditions. The vast majority of deaths in Maryland have been people who had some other condition in addition to the coronavirus.
Hospitals and other health care providers have, for the most part, turned to telehealth to find ways to protect people with underlying conditions from having to venture out during the pandemic, exposing themselves to the disease.
A lot of patients have at home some of the equipment they need, like glucometers, thermometers and blood pressure cuffs. Bruno hopes more insurers and retailers find ways to pay for patients to get these devices or buy them at deep discounts.
“I think it would be really nice if we could get insurers to pay for those blood pressure cuffs,” he said. “That would be a tremendous blessing for a lot of our folks who are struggling with chronic hypertension.”
Both Maryland and the federal government have loosened regulations to allow for more telehealth visits to be reimbursed by health insurers.
They have also allowed for telehealth visits to take place through more and different mediums, including an executive order from Gov. Larry Hogan Wednesday that should allow some telehealth visits to take place via email.
Most health care systems in the state, along with urgent care clinics and doctor offices, have found a way to implement some element of telehealth.
But they are also stressing that now is not the time for routine care if it is not necessary.
“We want to make sure that nobody is going without care, but we are just kind of switching the kind of care we are providing,” Bruno said. Some types of care, like a routine physical, should probably wait, he added.
Health officials have also said the need to continue to treat people underscores the necessity of social distancing protocols that have been put in place.
It reduces the risk for patients that may still have to come into a doctor’s office, a hospital or venture out to purchase medicine (although prescriptions can be delivered now, too).
“The hospitals are providing their best medical care regardless of whether the patient has coronavirus or not,” Bob Atlas, president and CEO of the Maryland Hospital Association, said in a statement. “They regularly treat patients with a variety of infectious diseases and are well-equipped to isolate and treat those patients safely and without harm to other patients, visitors, and staff.
“In this environment, extra precautions are being taken such as triage outside of the emergency department to sequester those with the virus.”