Stores, restaurants, and many other businesses across the country have turned to technology to help serve customers over the past few months. Every company has had to adapt to constantly changing circumstances. Why should healthcare organizations respond any differently?
Physical doors have been closed on chronic pain patients all over the world. Although eHealth services were in the midst of development in recent years, most healthcare organizations have had to rapidly change their plans and put telemedicine practices into action.
In 2019, only about 33% of inpatient hospitals in the United States used telemedicine. Now, roughly 75% of U.S. hospitals use telemedicine and telehealth systems. That is a 42% increase influenced strongly by the spread of COVID-19 (Waldron, 2020). The use of these systems now allows patients, especially ones that suffer from chronic pain, to still receive medical care.
Chronic pain is an ongoing condition that cannot be ignored despite other points of focus that clinics and hospitals are facing right now. That is why many forms of communication and care have been introduced in order to keep patients in touch with their health care providers, even when they are unable to meet face-to-face.
Since roughly 20% of America’s population has chronic pain, there needed to be a way for these people to receive care, despite the uncertainty in our world today (Dahlhamer et al, 2016). There are a variety of technological solutions that have been put into use, specifically for people who battle chronic pain. As these solutions are developed and implemented, four main factors are being considered in order to ensure the health and safety of both chronic pain patients and healthcare providers.
Public health consequences of COVID-19 for patients with pain
Consequences of not treating these patients for the unknown duration of this pandemic
Options for remote assessment and management
Clinical evidence supporting remote therapies
Hospitals and clinics are required to balance planned and unplanned changes in their facilities. To avoid flooding healthcare facilities with patients, planned cancellations of elective surgeries and outpatient procedures for chronic disease management were put into place. In addition to planned events, there have been many unplanned occurrences like “medication shortages due to panic buying and inaccessibility of remaining healthcare options during movement restrictions” (Eccleston et al., 2020).
These planned and unplanned circumstances have left U.S. healthcare facilities in serious debt, a running total of $202.6 billion over the past four months. Although losses continue to be endured, hospitals and clinics across the country have continued to find ways to serve their patients, especially their patients with chronic and complex conditions.
It is well known that if chronic pain is ignored, a patient’s conditions can become significantly worse if they are not treated. Common side effects of untreated chronic pain are “decreased mobility, impaired immunity, decreased concentration, anorexia, and sleep disruptions” to name a few. (King and Fraser, 2013).
Keeping a constant connection between chronic pain patients and clinicians has been a challenge, but a challenge that needed to be addressed with urgency. That is why remote ways to assess and manage chronic pain were developed further throughout the pandemic. Video-chat appointments, telephone consultations, mobile apps to track pain and send information to and from doctors; all of these resources and more have been used as a substitute for face-to-face appointments and treatments.
COVID-19 has caused a lot of uncertainty for the treatment of people with ongoing chronic pain issues. Taking a look outside of bigger city health systems and the patients that are served by them, rural hospitals are at a higher risk of shutting down. In fact, rural hospitals are known to serve a majority of Medicaid and Medicare patients. Since the pandemic erupted in the U.S., their ability to receive the funds needed to remain open has become far more difficult. In the state of Michigan within the last year, 18 rural hospitals are at-risk for closure, and the current state of the country has not helped these hospitals by any stretch of the imagination (Roelofs, 2020)
To combat the inability to see patients in a hospital setting, many online resources and mobile applications have been released to the public during this time in order to stay connected, an example of this is the GeoPain app. Although this application has been available since 2018, it has recently become a vital tool for managing chronic pain among patients, clinicians, and researchers as it’s scientifically validated and was built specifically for improving how pain is remotely communicated. Version 2.0 is right around the corner with a greater emphasis on allowing patients to directly communicate with their care team while also gaining more insight into their own condition.
There has often been a gap when considering what happens between visits. Now that telephone and video-chat have taken the place of in-person consultations, it is even harder for clinicians to get a clear picture of their patient’s pain. GeoPain is a mobile app being used to connect the dots between visits and even during virtual visits and conference calls. The app is designed to be used on a daily basis and help people track every aspect of their pain in order to accurately communicate with their doctors in order to manage and treat their pain properly. When used alongside other apps like those for meditation, diet tracking, etc. patients can take control over their pain and help get the care they need.
The healthcare community is working hard every day to make sure that all of their patients are safe and healthy. Even once the country returns to “normal”, there will be an especially new normal for healthcare facilities. The technological advances made during the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to be used by hospitals, clinics, and patients all over the country for years to come. Many people may be missing in-person communication and treatment, however, new, technological ways of keeping in touch with patients and doctors continue to be improved upon every single day despite the ever-changing conditions of the world around us.