We know that most of us would like to forget that 2020 ever happened. While the COVID-19 pandemic created an entirely new level of complexity with health care delivery, patients continued to bravely confront their ‘routine’ chronic and acute health care issues. Through articles, interviews, and podcasts on many topics, Patients Rising continued to provide reliable information and support.
Here is a review of some of the topics that we addressed over the year. At the very end you’ll find the articles readers liked the most:
COVID-19: Testing, Treatment, and Job Loss
We tackled the pandemic, of course. During the early months, we armed our readers with reliable information on what patients would have to pay for getting tested for the virus, based on whether they were enrolled in Medicare, Medicaid, or a private plan. Those who lost insurance coverage due to unemployment could find reliable information on health plan options in this article.
The federal government has made provisions for covering COVID-19–related care for the uninsured via the CARES Act; the Act also covers the cost of a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine, one of which is now approved. However,
- Only those patients who have a primary diagnosis of COVID-19 will qualify for a reimbursement
- Providers have to choose to participate in this program; otherwise, the patient will be responsible for the treatment cost
Elective care, meaning procedures scheduled in advance, and non-essential medical and dental procedures, saw a significant dip this year due to a multitude of factors that included an unknown virus and the large number of people who came down with the infection in the U.S. The impact of delaying procedures and surgeries will be evident over the coming months and years.
Cost of Care
Managing diabetes and maintaining optimal blood glucose levels is extremely complicated. Newer medications and devices that continually monitor glucose levels can help prevent episodes of hyperglycemia (high blood glucose) and hypoglycemia (low blood glucose). In this article, we review the distribution of diabetes care cost, how much of it is covered by health plans, and smart ways for patients and their caregivers to reduce the cost of care.
Access to Care
Lack of equitable access to mental health care remains a barrier to patients seeking care, despite steps taken by the federal government to force health plans to provide the same benefits for mental and substance use disorder as medical or surgical care. Online surveys have identified barriers such as
- high cost-sharing,
- lack of access to psychiatric medications,
- long wait times for mental health treatments, and
- social stigma,
among other issues. The article shares policy recommendations that can help resolve some of these existing barriers.
One positive feature that came out of the pandemic was that everyone turned to online technology, be it for work meetings via Zoom or Google Meet or for virtual health visits via telemedicine platforms. Used infrequently prior to COVID-19, more than 43% of Medicare primary care visits used telehealth in April 2020, a dramatic boost from 0.1% just a couple of months earlier. While infrastructure challenges—on both the patient-end and at the health care clinic—may exist, federal funding has been allocated to improve telehealth delivery over the next 5 years, which can ease access. Read the article for reliable information on insurance coverage of telemedicine services.
A Healthy Mind
Stress and associated behavioral effects are open secrets in our society. This year in particular, limited social contact, anxiety about protecting self and family members, financial stress due to job loss, have all monumentally increased stress and anxiety. One of our guest writers this year used her experiences with barriers to mental health care access to discuss some of the most common obstacles such as
- limited number of specialists,
- social stigma, and
- lack of insurance coverage.
She does acknowledge that the situation is improving.
Clinical information can be quite difficult to understand and can overwhelm patients. One of our articles this year, written by a data analyst who simplifies scientific information into easily digestible bits, provides some recommendations for both patients and doctors to bridge the language gap. This includes patient tips such as
- having a list of questions ready,
- have a caregiver accompany you, and a
- sking about alternative treatment options
Provider tips include using the teach-back method during an appointment and reducing the use of medical jargon.
This year, we have also provided a depth of resources on lodging options for patients and caregivers during treatment-related travel. Medical lodging can be expensive, over and above treatment costs. Recognizing this, several non-profit organizations provide free or discounted lodging. Additionally, hospitals may partner with local hotels for discounted rates and share this information on their website.
A large number of patients also face transportation barriers because they may be too ill to drive to an appointment, may not have support from family or friends, or may not have accessible public transportation. There are several transportation options for these individuals, and they may even be covered by their health plan.
Support for Family Caregivers
Caregivers who are family members often face an uphill task of balancing work, life, and caring for their loved one, and they are often left with having to make a tough choice. The task is particularly daunting for those caring for elderly Alzheimer’s patients. In case you missed reading this article, we have gathered information on several organizations that provide useful tips, reliable information on access to resources, and a caregiver support community where caregivers can connect with other caregivers.
Can family caregivers get paid? Several state and federal policies are directed to strengthen the support provided by communities, providers, and the government to caregivers. The Family and Medical Leave Act, for example, provides job protection for caregivers and extended unpaid family leave. The article also provides information on other direct and indirect ways to ease financial stress associated with family caregiving.
Most Popular 2020 Articles Among Our Readers
Among the articles and patient stories that we brought to you this year, the following were the most read by you, our audience:
Understanding the diseases of the thyroid gland was a very popular topic among our readers. The article included very clear visual elements on different types of thyroid conditions, along with a home test to check for abnormalities.
The article discussing financial compensation options for caregivers was also very popular among our readers.
A story describing lack of access to a potentially life-saving drug, remdesivir, for a young father of two children who had contracted the SARS-CoV-2 viral infection but did not qualify for a clinical trial of the drug or the manufacturer’s compassionate use criteria, drew the attention of a lot of our readers.
Surabhi Dangi-Garimella, Ph.D. is a biologist with academic research experience, who brought her skills and knowledge to the health care communications world. She provides writing and strategic support to non-profit groups via her consultancy, SDG AdvoHealth, LLC.
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