Action Through Engagement: Alleviating COVID Concerns in Patients with Underlying Conditions

March 29, 2021
Claus Møldrup

Claus Møldrup is co-founder of DrugsDisclosed.com.

It’s important that care for people with pre-existing conditions or at risk from serious diseases does not fall by the wayside.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on almost all aspects of life, be it health, the economy or the environment. Arguably, one could state that due to the far-reaching nature of this pandemic, it’s too early to tell just how big of an overall impact it has made on the world.

However, one thing that is clear to us at the moment, is the impact the pandemic is having on those with pre-existing medical conditions and how it has affected their care programmed and management of their conditions. Extensive measures have been taken by governments across the world to combat COVID-19, but these measures often have a significant knock-on effect, on those who are the most vulnerable to the virus and are fighting other conditions at the same time.

But what can be done to help reassure people with pre-existing conditions? And how can healthcare professionals ensure that people receive all the care they need, once pressure from COVID-19 is alleviated? We need to make sure that our healthcare systems can cope with the ongoing consequences of the pandemic and that our healthcare professionals have the support they need to care for patients, while ensuring the patient voice is heard.

The far-reaching impact of the pandemic

Governments across the world have introduced strategies which are front-loaded to fight COVID, which ultimately has meant care in other areas has slipped behind, largely due to cancelled appointments and clinics, raising questions about this approach and whether by focusing energies on COVID-19, we’re blindly walking into an impending crisis with others already facing or at risk from chronic illnesses which are either not being suitably treated or are going undiagnosed with cancellations.

Due to concerns about COVID-19, an estimated 41% of U.S. adults have delayed or avoided medical care including urgent or emergency care (12%) and routine care (32%).1 In the UK, research conducted by the British Medical Association (BMA) has found that over a million planned operations and treatments, as well as over twenty thousand cancer treatments, have been cancelled or delayed between April and June 2020 as a result of the pandemic. With regards to specific diseases, research by cancer charity, Macmillan has found that there are around 50,000 people in the UK now missing a cancer diagnosis who are at risk of what it terms “the forgotten ‘C’ of the coronavirus crisis.”2

Tough restrictions and cancelled appointments in the UK have also clearly had a significant impact on people’s wider well-being. Mental health charity, the Mental Health Foundation, has actively been reviewing the toll of lockdowns on mental well-being. Research from December when the current lockdown was announced, found over half (54%) of the UK adult population have felt anxious or worried because of the pandemic.

These concerns are amplified among people with underlying health conditions. DrugsDisclosed.com undertook research at the end of 2020 to see what the impact on these people and their conditions have been as a result of lockdowns and the cancellation of healthcare appointments. One major concern that was raised was an increased feeling of isolation both socially and on their medical journey.

Out of those DrugsDisclosed.com asked, 52% claim they were more worried about entering lockdown in winter than they were in spring. For many across the UK, the turn of the weather can amplify feelings of loneliness and isolation, with social disconnect personified during the winter months of the year. This echoes the findings from the Mental Health Foundation.

Another key finding was a third (36%) stated that they are now more worried about their condition than normal. With the constant headlines about those impacted by underlying health conditions, and those with pre-existing conditions being most at risk, it is no wonder there is an increase in anxiety. Elsewhere the research also reveals:

  • One in ten (12%) are now worried they are taking the wrong medication
  • When asked if they felt the public were supportive of those living with underlying health conditions, over half (54%) said no. Rising to 57% for the over 60s
  • Almost a third (29%) of people felt that the restrictions of the lockdown were worse than the fear of actually catching COVID-19.

What’s clear from these findings from those who face the greatest risks from COVID-19, is that they do not feel entirely supported. Despite the efforts of so many healthcare workers to curb the pandemic, the overwhelming strain on the health has meant care elsewhere has waned.

Combating COVID-19 combined with cancelled appointments are seemingly pushing other health conditions and potentially serious illnesses down the line. Growing worry around missed appointments and taking the wrong medication could lead to a breakdown of trust between patients and healthcare providers and impact the overall health of this vulnerable group. It is more important now that patients feel heard and that this is something that is addressed.

Action through engagement

Patients are evidently aggrieved by the current state of play and are worried about the impacts on their health. In order to calm these concerns, patient engagement is critical. We need to ensure that patients are receiving the care they need. The high level of patient anxiety is often leading to conditions worsening, non-adherence and shockingly some believing they are taking the wrong medication.

By listening to patient voices, healthcare professionals and the pharmaceutical industry can solve many of these issues and provide the reassurance that many feel is missing as a consequence of the pandemic. With lockdowns and the pandemic still raging, this will be easier said than done, but we cannot risk ignoring these patients for too long, else we face another crisis.

It’s important that care for people with pre-existing conditions or at-risk from serious diseases does not fall by the wayside. If we don’t act now and engage with patients to allay their concerns, we could be sleepwalking into another healthcare crisis, once which could be seemingly avoidable through dialogue and transparency.

Claus Møldrup is co-founder of DrugsDisclosed.com

Notes

  1. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6936a4.htm
  2. https://www.macmillan.org.uk/assets/forgotten-c-impact-of-covid-19-on-cancer-care.pdf