Pandemic and chronic patients. Does their condition worsen?

The effects of the pandemic on chronic patients.

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Photo by: Scott Graham

The Covid 19 pandemic has enormously impacted the world in 2020 and the overall health care. It caused significant personal and societal losses. Considering the large number of people affected, the question that immediately arose was whether patients already in treatment and with chronic diseases got worse. Therefore, in this article, we are going to take a look at the effects of the pandemic on chronic patients and how it affected their previous conditions.

Observing the chronic patients

Physicians all around the world immediately noticed the deterioration in their patients' health during the pandemic. A new survey that focused on primary care clinicians by the Primary Care Collaborative reported a grave deterioration in their patients' health. This included:

  1. 85% with worsening mental health
  2. 31% with increased addiction
  3. 37% with chronic conditions getting worse

The Covid 19 pandemic has had both direct and indirect effects on people with chronic diseases. The pandemic hit health care centers and hospitals by spreading very quickly and very easily. This meant a large increase in patients in a very short period. Health care has had a reduced ability to control chronic diseases and prevent them due to the raised concern about safely accessing health care. So, what are the biggest challenges for the treatment of patients with chronic diseases during the pandemic? Let us take a further look.

The first challenge is protecting people with chronic diseases from the pandemic. During the initial stages of the pandemic, this was incredibly difficult. There was a need for balance between protecting the chronic disease patients and providing them the needed treatments, health care utilization, screenings, etc. For example, cancer screenings dropped in great numbers during the initial stages of the pandemic.

The second challenge is the post-pandemic impact of the Covid 19. The prevention, identification, and management of chronic diseases has been severely impaired during the pandemic. Modeling studies have estimated that these missed or delayed screenings could result in more than 10.000 new cases of breast and colorectal cancer which could have been prevented.

The third challenge is the long-term Covic 19 sequelae. This, simply put, refers to the potential of newly created long-term chronic diseases and their effect on other internal organs post-pandemic. The question that also frequently appears is whether the pandemic not only worsened the existing conditions in chronic patients but also if it caused new, additional chronic diseases. It is well known that due to the pandemic, many businesses both small and large, had to close down for a time. This caused new challenges where the disrupted lives caused new social and economic hardships. These new social and economic hardships could also be the cause of future chronic diseases. So, this is where raising awareness comes into important play.

Raising the awareness

More focus is needed on raising awareness about the impact of Covid 19. Public and health care practitioners have an important task of making sure people safely return to health care. A great emphasis needs to be put on chronic disease prevention and care by explaining how to safely access care in the first place. This emphasis on safety applies to disease prevention as well as disease management.

Taking into account the current community rates of Covid 19 and the need for health care, information provided by both public and health care practitioners can help patients make more informed choices. Communities require data to address health inequities after the pandemic.

Collaboration and trust-building

Collaboration during the pandemic between the public health, system-level, and people, individual level, needs to exist. Communication and proper information are crucial. Public health plays a huge role in the process of addressing the prevention and chronic diseases. Healthy eating, physical activity, substance abuse, and various community solutions all need to be implemented better. Furthermore, local health departments need to identify problems and solutions and then bring local residents into the discussion.

Collaborative partners to the public health system and providers need to be other government and non-governmental organizations including nonprofit organizations, community, and faith-based groups as well as schools and businesses. Building trust and a long-lasting collaboration in addressing the same issue takes time and a lot of effort.

To properly achieve this, trust needs to be firmly built with the health care system and the public health system. The trust challenge needs to be addressed on time and with the right solutions. It will require investments in outreach, engagement, and transparency sectors. As we can see according to the PPC survey analysis mentioned above, the patients' overall health continues to suffer due to the pandemic. Therefore, it is imperative to achieve and build back trust.

Innovative solutions

Those disproportionately affected by the Covid 19 need promoted resiliency by using creative solutions to engage this population. Some of the initial challenges may be improving, but the overall improvement is not consistent across all health care services and visits types, patients, and communities. Efforts need to be placed in new, innovative solutions at preventing and combating chronic diseases during the pandemic as well as after it. What exactly are these solutions?

Technology is constantly expanding. However, putting more effort into the reach of technological health care and health promotions is a must. With the increased number of patients, platforms offering telemedicine play an important role in reducing the number of in-person patient visits and provide much-needed relief to the overall health care system. In addition to this, approaches that increase access to and convenience of services such as home screenings or home blood pressure monitoring need where appropriate need to be enhanced. Furthermore, more services should be provided in community settings such as regular prevention programs and tests.

In conclusion

To sum up, what we have said so far, the effects of the global pandemic will certainly affect those with chronic diseases. Furthermore, Covid 19 has impeded chronic diseases treatments, management, and prevention. Can public health care build trust in science and health care systems? Will post-pandemic chronic diseases develop into new forms? These are some of the questions that are yet to be answered. The main takeaway here is that adjusting and implementing new strategies and innovative solutions for the future is critical. With proper communication and collaboration, the post-pandemic period can be addressed and new chronic diseases stopped.

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