Blog | Population Health Management

Social distancing due to coronavirus may have unintentional negative effects on seniors aging in place

Blog | Population Health Management

Social distancing due to coronavirus may have unintentional negative effects on seniors aging in place

  • Kaiser Health News published an article March 18 highlighting that while social distancing is protecting the most vulnerable among us from COVID-19, it’s also placing them at risk in other ways.
  • Older adults who would normally have checkups are not being seen during the COVID-19 outbreak, which means their condition could deteriorate and go unnoticed, KHN reported.
  • Loss of mobility and social isolation are both ramifications of social distancing for this population too, according to the KHN article.

Kaiser Health News published an article March 18 highlighting that while social distancing is protecting the most vulnerable among us from COVID-19, it’s also placing them at risk in other ways. The KHN article crisply reports, “As the health care system becomes preoccupied with the new coronavirus, non-urgent doctors’ visits are being canceled. Older adults who otherwise might have had chronic illness checkups may now deteriorate at home, unnoticed. If they don’t go out, their mobility could become compromised — a risk for decline. Furthermore, if older adults stop seeing people regularly, isolation and loneliness could set in, generating stress and undermining their ability to cope (and accelerating cognitive decline). And if paid companions and home health aides become ill, quarantined or unable to work because they need to care for children whose schools have closed, older adults could be left without needed care.”

Beyond the unintentional suffering this could cause, it will increase the total cost of care, putting further COVID-19- related pressure on participants in alternative payment models.

Takeaway

At an organizational level, as more health systems transition their primary care practices to virtual visits, this will reduce the amount of patient triage required, and  it will create nurse and tech capacity in clinics that adopt this strategy. One way to deploy this capacity is to have these members of the care team generate lists of the practices’ most vulnerable patients and call to check in on them. Care teams will need to develop protocols for what to do if the patient needs an intervention, either for medical or social reasons, given both limited resources in the community and the risk of virus transmission. So it will be important to have a good understanding of the resources available to address the need in the lowest-risk manner possible.

At a personal level, if you have a family member, family friend, acquaintance, or neighbor who is at risk of social isolation, please take the time to call and check in on them. They may appreciate the conversation more than you realize. 

About the Author

Chad Mulvany, FHFMA,

is director, healthcare finance policy, strategy and development, HFMA’s Washington, D.C., office.

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