David Strickland, MPH, is assistant vice president, education and knowledge strategies, at the Illinois Health and Hospital Association and a member of ASAE’s Healthcare Community Advisory Committee.
Since the start of the pandemic, there has been a decline in people going to physicians, emergency departments, and other healthcare facilities because they are worried about contracting COVID-19. To counteract this, several healthcare associations have launched initiatives to ensure safe care and encourage people to still go to the doctor.
One of the major impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the avoidance of visits to physician offices, hospital emergency departments, and other healthcare facilities out of fear of contracting the virus. The Commonwealth Fund reported a nearly 60 percent decline in visits to physician offices and other care sites in April 2020, accompanied by a sharp increase in telemedicine visits that has since dropped off. Visits by children age 3 to 17 have dropped precipitously since the start of the pandemic, even though there has been some recovery in visits by adults. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that hospital emergency department visits declined by 42 percent during March-April 2020. And in an analysis published in January 2021, TransUnion Healthcare reported that the latter half of 2020 saw hospital visits below pre-COVID-19 levels and likely to remain at lower levels throughout 2021.
This means that heart attacks, strokes, cancer, diabetes, and other serious conditions have been going untreated during the pandemic, and a number of children are not receiving well-child visits, school physicals, vaccinations, and other important preventive measures.
Several associations are collaborating with hospitals, physicians, nurses, and other caregivers at the state level to encourage patients to resume their normal care.
Because of this, state and national healthcare associations have taken note of the likely negative impact on Americans’ long-term health, and many of them have been collaborating with their members on initiatives to ensure safe care and encourage Americans to “return to care.” These initiatives have addressed two major concerns:
The #ReturnToCare Coalition was created by 20 national healthcare associations and patient-advocacy organizations to encourage patients to seek care, especially important screening exams, vaccinations, and treatments. Through data, news stories, and patient resources on COVID-19 and vaccinations, the coalition is providing answers to patients with questions about the safety of seeking care during the pandemic.
In November 2020, four national associations—the American College of Surgeons (ACS), American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA), Association of periOperative Registered Nurses (AORN), and American Hospital Association (AHA)—came together to provide guidance on maintaining essential surgery during the pandemic. Their Joint Statement: Roadmap for Maintaining Essential Surgery During COVID-19 Pandemic provides advice to physicians, nurses and other healthcare professionals, addressing such issues as regional cooperation, COVID-19 testing, personal protective equipment, case prioritization and scheduling, and safety.
As part of its multifaceted response throughout the pandemic, AHA developed guidance for hospitals and health systems to assist them in creating appropriate messages about returning to care for their patients and communities. Among other resources, its Pathways to Recovery report contains internal and external communication tools to promote what it calls “the new patient experience,” a renewed focus on communication, teamwork, and infection control and prevention in hospitals and health systems.
To help ensure that psychiatric patients can continue to receive care during the pandemic, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) released guidelines on the admission and discharge of psychiatric patients during COVID-19. The guidelines cover such topics as premature discharge, patient referrals among levels of care, and safe and appropriate treatment. APA is also advocating for the inclusion of people with serious mental illness and substance-use disorders in the CDC’s COVID-19 vaccination prioritization guidelines.
Several associations are collaborating with hospitals, physicians, nurses, and other caregivers at the state level to encourage patients to resume their normal care. The Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania and the Florida Hospital Association have launched statewide media campaigns to inform patients about the safety measures its members have adopted and to encourage them to return to care. Hospitals across Indiana have disseminated “Don’t Delay ER Care,” an infographic created by the Indiana Hospital Association to encourage residents to call 9-1-1 or visit their nearest emergency room in the event of a medical emergency. And the Illinois State Medical Society has created a pair of posters that its physician members can post in their offices to inform patients about the steps they are taking to keep patients safe while visiting their medical offices during the pandemic.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has caused more than 500,000 deaths in the United States and major disruptions throughout American society, healthcare associations nationwide are squarely focused on helping healthcare professionals and organizations not only combat this terrible pandemic but also continue to meet the ongoing healthcare needs of their patients and communities.