COVID-19: Lessons Learned So Far

As the number of COVID-19 cases continues to grow and stay at home orders are extended, it is clear that this crisis has not yet reached its peak in the U.S. While there is still much to be learned about the virus and how to treat, contain and prevent it, there are some things that have been learned so far that can help hospitals and health systems as they look to the future.

Here is some of what we have learned so far:

  1. We Need to Better Address Chronic Conditions: In the early stages of COVID-19, it became apparent that the elderly were among the highest-risk individuals and needed special measures to ensure their protection. Efforts were put in place to limit contact with the elderly, provide them with proper medical care and ensure their caregivers were exercising great caution. Protecting the elderly was, and is, of extreme importance. However, we came to realize that there was another high-risk group very vulnerable to the virus: those with chronic and underlying conditions. Data has shown that approximately 29.2 million adults in the U.S. between the ages of 18-59 are at risk of contracting the coronavirus due to an underlying medical condition such as heart disease, COPD or diabetes.

    Being that there is a large percentage of the population who are considered high-risk, it’s important that we take the proper steps to improve their health status prior to a pandemic. These underlying health issues can be addressed at early stages to help prevent movement to the high-risk category. Some of these health strategies include:

    • Early Detection – Two of the easiest ways to uncover underlying health conditions are through biometric screenings and health risk assessments (HRAs). These methods provide test results, uncover family histories and identify behaviors that are indicative of a chronic condition. There are tools that can help in the assessment of this data, including bMetrix™, a screening application that allows for the seamless collection and recording of biometric data. Screenings can detect the presence and onset of chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and other issues that have shown to accelerate the impact of viruses such as COVID-19.

    • Behavior Modification – Once a health condition is identified, the individual should be provided with recommendations and resources for addressing the issue. This may include weight loss tips, referrals to smoking cessation programs or a recommendation to schedule an appointment with a physician. A health portal can be implemented as an easy way for an individual to establish health-related goals and track progress.

    • Health Coaching – Many individuals don’t know where to start when they’ve been diagnosed with a chronic condition. It can be helpful to appoint a health coach to serve as an accountability partner and help keep the individual on track.  A health coach can monitor and track the progress of an individual’s condition and provide corrective guidance along the way. An online health portal can be beneficial in allowing the coach to document sessions and also to conduct phone or virtual meetings when in-person interactions are not an option. Health coach documentation and virtual coaching are features that are included in the bIQ™ Population Health Management platform.

    Because most people receive their health benefits through their employer, it’s the optimal starting point. By implementing health strategies at the employer level, there is more opportunity to detect and address medical issues before they become a larger problem.

  2. The Focus on Employee Health Has Intensified: The COVID-19 pandemic has put employee health at the forefront for employers of all sizes. Employers must determine the best way to keep their employees healthy while at work and also monitor the health and well-being of employees who are now working from home. It has become imperative to offer employees the tools and resources that will help keep them healthy and treat them if they are not. A COVID-19 impact survey by Mercer, a human resources consulting firm, found that 33% of employers are still offering well-being programs to employees and are making them accessible to employees who are now working remotely.  Another 22% of employers have established virtual well-being initiatives and 43% are taking steps to address the psychological stress of their staff.

    A survey of executives in the financial services, wealth management and professional services industries found that only 4% of employers were expecting to reduce employee benefits while 19% plan to expand employee benefits in the future. These numbers are indicative of the fact that employers are starting to see the value of employee health and well-being programs and how they will be increasingly important going forward.

  3. Employer Health Strategies Can, and Should, Continue During a Crisis: Even though hospitals, health systems and employers are in a state of crisis, there are effective ways to continue to manage employer health initiatives and promote employee health.

    Organizations have proven the following strategies to be successful:

    • Premier Health in Dayton, Ohio created a 30-Day Self-Care Challenge for Coping with COVID-19 that they have sent to clients through the bIQ platform. The challenge provides a daily tip for ensuring proper self-care during times that can be taxing on health and wellness. All employees of their employer clients received the challenge.

    • Baptist Health in Jacksonville,Florida has continued their health coaching program by offering online sessions through the bIQ Virtual Coaching application.  The virtual sessions allow for coaching sessions to continue as well as for new sessions to be scheduled. Being able to deliver well-being programs remotely and without interruption is important for the success of these initiatives.

    • University Hospitals in Cleveland, Ohio created a series of videos for local employers that provide COVID-19 updates, tips and resources for keeping employees in the local community healthy. The videos focus on addressing the unique needs of local employers and provide expert commentary on how executives can manage their workforce and keep employees healthy.

The COVID-19 pandemic is still an uphill battle, but Applied Health Analytics remains at the ready to assist hospitals and health systems during this challenging time. Whether you need help developing communications strategies or want to start planning how to help local employers improve their employee health initiatives, Applied Health Analytics can set-up a strategy meeting and help identify the next steps. Contact Applied Health Analytics to learn more about how to enhance your employer health strategies.