3 Reasons Why Protecting Public Health Is More Important Than Ever
Tashfeen Ekram, MD
This week (April 6-13, 2020) is National Public Health Week, and we’re proud to join in observing it! But what exactly does the term “public health” encompass? According to the CDC, public health is “the science of protecting and improving the health of their communities.” Achieving public health goals may include promoting hygiene and healthy lifestyles, researching epidemiology and disease prevention, and encouraging government regulation and support towards these goals.
This past month, the global outbreak of COVID-19 has propelled public health to the center of public discussion. Of course, it may seem obvious that public health would be a strong focus right now — but there are certain aspects of public health that are less-discussed, yet equally as important to containing the spread of coronavirus and ensuring Americans’ long-term well-being.
Given this context, here are three major reasons why promoting and protecting public health measures is absolutely essential.
1. Public health encompasses mental health, too.
Being quarantined isn’t all fun and games (and Netflix). For many people “sheltering in place” during this time, staying inside can be lonely, or it can feel stressful and overwhelming. Social distancing can also take its toll on mental health.
Equally as important: the brave healthcare workers who continue to go to work and fight the coronavirus. They are putting not only their physical health but also their mental health at risk. This is an incredibly stressful and uncertain time — and while discussing mental health continues to face stigma, it’s incredibly important that we confront these issues threatening public well-being.
Emotional and mental well-being are vital, yet often overlooked aspects of public health. To help give patients peace of mind during this difficult time, we are now offering our telehealth solution to all health clinics: sign up for our telehealth webinar to learn best practices and see the different ways that televisits can deliver value to patients and providers.
During this difficult time, we encourage everyone to reach out to their loved ones and check on them. Here are some resources from the CDC and the World Health Organization that focus on mental health considerations during the COVID-19 outbreak and share ways that we can improve our emotional well-being. For example, it’s okay to take breaks from the 24/7 coronavirus news cycle. It can be upsetting to constantly hear about the pandemic and watch the number of cases continue to rise. So, turn the TV off and prioritize your own mental health.
Another best practice is to take care of your body. Taking walks outside is allowed even under the strictest quarantine policies, and getting fresh air can do wonders for mental health. Other ways to take care of yourself include eating well-balanced meals, meditating, and maintaining a regular sleep schedule. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to ask for help! Nobody is alone in this crisis; we are all in this together. Reaching out to loved ones or to mental health professionals is nothing to be ashamed of. In order to truly achieve our public health goals, it’s time to normalize discussions about mental health.
This infographic shares five strategies for ensuring emotional well-being during this unprecedented time.
Maintaining mental health requires constant innovation and we believe leveraging telehealth is essential, especially during this crisis. Psychiatric researchers are already beginning to recognize the value of telehealth in protecting patients’ physical and emotional well-being, writing that,
“As interest in and use of telehealth during the COVID-19 global pandemic increase, the potential of digital health to increase access to and quality of mental health is becoming clear.”
Virtual visits with providers are reassuring for patients, lending them peace of mind and assuring them that they aren’t alone — and in such an isolating time, this has never been more necessary.
2. Technology can help protect public health by keeping patients informed.
Public health is all about promoting health literacy and ensuring patients play an active role in their own healthcare. That’s especially true in a time where misinformation is quickly spreading along with the coronavirus. Anyone with a phone has seen the constant swirl of information and questions relating to COVID-19: is hydroxychloroquine an effective cure to the coronavirus? Does social distancing mean that you can still hang out with your friends? How can symptomatic people obtain a COVID-19 test? To promote public health, providers have the responsibility to engage their patients and communicate accurate answers to these questions.
Disseminating accurate information can help not only with reducing patient stress and anxiety but also with flattening the curve of COVID-19. Keeping patients informed helps them understand best practices for preventing the spread of coronavirus. That’s why Luma Health is now offering 90 days of free broadcast messaging to help encourage preventive measures such as hand-washing, social distancing, avoiding face-touching, and more.
Our messaging platform allows providers to quickly text and/or email their entire patient population — and because we offer multilingual, HIPAA-compliant, two-way messaging, every single patient is able to engage with their provider. Broadcast messaging is customizable, meaning that each clinic can tweak the messages to fit their needs, and even to include screening surveys for COVID-19. For some other examples of the value of broadcast messaging, check out our Coronavirus Playbook, which shows other ways that providers can leverage this tool to engage, educate, and triage their patients.
Operating in tandem with broadcast messaging is our new telehealth solution — we’re offering 90 days of complimentary televisits to enable providers to seamlessly connect with patients. Our telehealth platform sends out customized reminder cadences to patients to ensure that they don’t miss an appointment; then, when it’s time for the visit to begin, getting into the virtual visit room is seamless, requiring only one click. No apps, no logins, and no downloads required, and everything is HIPAA-compliant. To learn more and to request your free demo, go to https://www.lumahealth.io/telehealth.
This visual depiction of what “flattening the curve” could look like underscores the importance of taking every measure possible to slow the spread of coronavirus.
Implementing new technologies such as telehealth can help flatten the curve by ensuring that patients are socially distancing and don’t come into the office for an in-person appointment. Plus, broadcast messaging keeps patients in the loop and can communicate this information to every patient — making the combination of messaging and telehealth a powerful one-two punch.
Advocating on behalf of uninsured and vulnerable patients to ensure their access to care has never been more important.
3. We must work together to ensure access to care for vulnerable patient populations.
As you read this, there are scientists working around the clock researching COVID-19 to understand how it can be treated most effectively — and eventually working toward the development of a vaccine. But if these scientists don’t have adequate funding, they won’t be able to continue during their work. Plus, once a vaccine is ready, it won’t do any good if people are asked to shoulder the (likely exorbitant) cost on their own.
When the time comes, we need to ensure that every American is protected from coronavirus; in the meantime, Americans currently being treated for COVID-19 shouldn’t be facing insurmountable medical costs. Advocating for continued government funding of important public health programs is something that we can all do, whether it’s calling your Congressperson, signing a petition, spreading awareness on social media, or donating to the cause yourself.
It’s also important to recognize that the social determinants of health play a role in determining who is most vulnerable to COVID-19. These determinants — such as limited financial resources, the inability to have time off from a job, lack of availability to nutritious food or important health resources, and many more — may operate outside the four walls of a clinic, but they heavily influence health outcomes. For example, the costs of healthcare continue to increase at an exponential rate, and as companies are forced to lay workers off, many Americans are losing their employer-sponsored insurance.
Being tested for COVID-19 can cost hundreds, even thousands of dollars, especially if patients are uninsured. This may discourage infected patients from taking a test, hurting the healthcare system’s ability to track the true number of COVID-19 cases and running the risk that infected patients will unknowingly spread the virus to others. Advocating on behalf of these patients and ensuring their access to care has never been more important.
Plus, there are ways providers can work to combat social determinants of health. For example, a text-first approach to patient communication is an equitable way to ensure that every patient is able to engage with their provider during this tumultuous time. Far more Americans own cell phones than have landlines in their households, and this is particularly true for low-income families, who are increasingly relying on cell phones over landlines. Implementing SMS-based messaging systems is a huge step toward remedying the inequities that exist in healthcare. To learn more about how modernized outreach and communication platforms can reduce social disparities in access to care, read our blog post here.
Watch our on-demand webinar to learn more about how to leverage reimbursable HIPAA-compliant virtual visits to deliver care and minimize appointment backlogs and cancellations.
Bottom Line: When it comes to public health, everyone can make a difference.
The American Public Health Association said it best: “As we explore access to care and burden of disease, we must invest in equitable solutions to advance public health.” It seems like a daunting task for just a few individuals to advocate for solutions that can protect public health, but there are ways to get the ball rolling.
By doing your part to promote social distancing and smart public health measures, you can help us achieve our goal of improving public health. Ultimately, it’s clear that all of these key public health strategies work together: implementing advanced new technology helps reach more patients, which in turn drives widespread access to care, which improves the well-being and health of all patients.