Facetime with Dad

Getting the Care We Need Despite the Virus

It’s a weird time we’re living through. Streets are empty, shops are closed, and our hair is growing unruly. We’re in the midst of a health crisis and yet, our usual means of getting healthcare feels out of reach for many of us. But the truth is that we have options. Health providers are adapting fast so we can safely get the care we need despite the coronavirus.

For those of us with chronic health concerns – like obesity and its complications – this is important. That’s because those health concerns, if we don’t manage them well, put us at risk for other problems popping up. Recent data on risk factors for COVID-19 make this fact crystal clear.

The Telehealth Option

In a perverse way, it seems that the coronavirus pandemic has done us a tiny favor. It has forced stubbornly stodgy healthcare providers to adopt more efficient technologies to deliver care. A London GP, Sam Wessely, describes it well:

We’re basically witnessing 10 years of change in one week. It used to be that 95 percent of patient contact was face-to-face. You go to see your doctor, as it has been for decades, centuries. But that has changed completely.

Virtual patient visits are now a fact of life. Jamy Ard, an obesity medicine physician at the Wake Forest School of Medicine, illustrates how this can make a big difference for patients:

I had a friend text me that she thought she had the beginnings of a shingles rash. It wasn’t excruciating pain which can often happen with shingles, but it was becoming quite uncomfortable at times. In this kind of situation, getting an antiviral early on could make a real difference in the course/progression of that disease. No doubt she could have toughed it out, but she called her PCP after I advised her that she really had a 72 hour window to decrease her chances of getting post-herpetic neuralgia. One video visit later and an electronic prescription to her pharmacy, she’s in a much better spot than if she delayed treatment.

Eventually, we’ll all figure this out; but everything I’m seeing now suggests telehealth is going to take a much more prominent role in our healthcare lives. I think that could be good.

Real Danger in Delaying Care

Right now, we’re seeing real danger for the health of people with chronic diseases delaying care. It’s easy for things to spin out of control if you have diabetes, heart disease, or other complications of obesity. Especially in underserved populations, some patients hesitate and feel constrained, says Boston Medical Center’s Caroline Apovian:

Today, one patient asked if I thought it was OK for him to go outside for exercise if he kept his distance from other people. Meanwhile, I see affluent crowds out on Heartbreak Hill.

This reminds us of studies that suggest entitled individuals don’t believe the rules apply to them. Harvard’s Fatima Cody Stanford encourages patients:

Stand up for yourself. Often, people with obesity have to be their strongest advocates because of the high levels of weight stigma and bias that currently exist. If you feel you or a loved one needs medical attention, make sure that you advocate to receive good care.

Resources from the Obesity Action Coalition

Despite physical isolation, we are not alone in this difficult time. The OAC has opened up access to premium membership for free during the COVID-19 emergency. News and community forums are valuable resources. OAC Chair Michelle Vicari sums it up well:

I do worry that COVID-19 is causing people to delay care. As someone who delayed care for years for lack of insurance, I know my obesity-related conditions worsened. I hope people look into all the telehealth and virtual visits that may be available to them and don’t delay care. We will be on the other side of this pandemic one day and we must do everything possible to lessen its destructiveness.

So step up, connect, and get the care you need. Knock and sooner or later, a door will open.

For further perspective on the importance of getting care for your chronic conditions now, click here. Click here for more on the telehealth revolution we’re witnessing. Finally, click here and here for perspective on telehealth in mental health care.

Facetime with Dad, photograph © woodleywonderworks / flickr

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April 16, 2020