posted by Renee’ Buckingham, President, Partners in Primary Care
on November 16, 2020
The coming colder months, combined with COVID-19 upticks in emerging “hot spots,” make it essential to take extra measures to protect the health of seniors, many of whom are particularly vulnerable to the virus.
However, protecting them from the virus should not inadvertently put them at greater risk for complications from other, non-COVID issues, including cancer, heart disease, and depression.
At the beginning of the crisis, data showed that 1 in 6 older adults (70+) delayed or canceled essential medical treatment. Further, almost 40% put off non-essential treatment, while about a third went without preventative care.
Delaying care can have significant consequences at all ages, especially among seniors, and we’re just starting to see the effects. According to The Wall Street Journal, delays in routine cancer screenings, particularly mammograms, have resulted in delayed and later-stage diagnoses that many physicians anticipate will ultimately result in higher mortality rates.
Throughout the summer and early fall, we have seen an easing up, with patients feeling more comfortable visiting the doctor, especially for routine care. Unfortunately, this comes just as we head into a possible second wave of the virus, potentially resulting in seniors again delaying care. With flu on its way, avoiding the doctor could be dire.
At Humana’s Partners in Primary Care, which provides senior-focused health care for those on Medicare Advantage and dual eligibles, we have gone to great lengths to institute safety protocols, in line with CDC guidelines. Our 56 centers have remained open during the crisis and, when appropriate, our care teams also conduct telehealth visits.
Occasionally, however, neither of those options work, which is when we find an alternative. Take, for instance, the case of an 84-year-old woman in the Houston area who had isolated for several months at the beginning of the crisis. She is a regular patient, but wasn’t comfortable going inside our health center. The doctor and care team instead met her at her car, provided a medical exam curbside and, equally as important, provided much needed human-to-human contact, a critical component to seniors’ overall emotional and mental health.
While 2020 may be best characterized as “unpredictable,” what is certain is that, despite external factors, it is essential that seniors continue their primary care visits, whether for a flu vaccination, monitoring for underlying health conditions, or screening for emerging issues. We are fortunate that our care teams meet with our senior patients on average for 45 minutes. That allows them to assess for both physical and social determinant factors that may be impeding health, such as depression, loneliness, food deprivation, or overall financial strain that could cause undue stress.
These are challenging times, but we cannot let our seniors fall through the cracks. They certainly should not have to choose between being safe from the virus and visiting the doctor for regular care. Both are possible with a little bit of encouragement, assurance, and compassion.