The coronavirus pandemic has altered every facet of our lives. Everyday tasks suddenly became challenging and anything not deemed “essential” came to an abrupt halt. New terms and safety procedures are now part of our daily lives and even the most mundane contact with friends or extended family is accompanied by health and safety measures. But as we approach the reopening of schools and begin to find “normalcy” in pandemic lives, there is another threat that looms for our healthcare system: the impending flu season. The influenza virus, while more studied and known than the novel coronavirus, presents itself with symptoms that are similar to (if not indistinguishable from) COVID-19. This similarity of symptoms will make effective prevention of illness and proper diagnosis of the flu or COVID-19 an even more critical task.
Our healthcare providers are our best line of defense against both of these viruses and offer an authoritative voice in the face of rampant misinformation. And yet, our health system is already under immense strain given the lack of ubiquitous national guidance, the lack of testing, the lack of hospital capacity, and the variety of ways in which COVID-19 is presenting itself in human systems. Luckily, studies show healthcare providers have remained the most trusted group for information throughout the pandemic, and we have every reason to believe this will continue as we approach the 2020-2021 flu season.
As the country prepares for flu season and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, accurate information will be our biggest weapon in the fight against both of these viruses. It will be our job as healthcare marketers to use Point of Care (POC) to relieve some of the stress on physicians and help patients understand what they need to know to stay healthy.
Tracking the Flu Season 2020
Early prevention, detection, and response are key to preventing the spread of any disease, so POC platforms should leverage their nationwide reach to make patients and providers aware of the tracking site FluNearYou.org. This resource allows individuals to report symptoms in real-time to complement traditional tracking while providing useful information directly to the public. National tracking from multiple sources can help healthcare providers determine the probability of infection by the flu virus and potentially better manage their patient populations.
Patient Education at the Point of Care
Symptoms for the seasonal flu and COVID-19 may be similar, so patient education at the POC is likely the most important thing we can do to help keep our healthcare systems from being overwhelmed. Educating patients and their caregivers about the importance of getting the flu shot, how to spot the differences between the two viruses, and actions to take if someone is experiencing symptoms, are important messages for patients. POC also serves as a great space to remind patients about hygiene protocols that work to stave off both viruses – like washing hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds, refraining from touching eyes or face, wearing masks, social distancing, etc. Lastly, combatting disinformation about masks, remedies, medications, and vaccines will be necessary given the amount of misinformation circulating online. Patient messaging about myths and truths overall will be helpful reminders for those trying to distinguish fact from fiction.
Flu Shot Awareness
The POC channel should inform and support flu shot awareness. As we know, the flu vaccination can provide greatly needed protection from the worst effects of the flu virus, help shield others, and aid in recovery. As a trusted source of information, POC should ensure this message is communicated to patients, as well as information about treatments, when to seek support from your healthcare provider, and how/where to get the vaccine.
For the last several years, Outcome Health has partnered with Unity Consortium to bring their important messages about vaccination and immunization to physician practices and health systems across the country. Judy Klein, President of Unity Consortium, stresses that all adolescents and young adults should get their flu shots to protect themselves, their families and their communities: “It’s more convenient than ever to get vaccinated – at your local pharmacy, clinic or physician office. Pharmacists are now able to administer vaccines to individuals ages three through 18 years old, and physicians are ensuring their offices are a safe and easily accessible place to visit and get vaccinated. This year especially, when our healthcare system is already under such burden and stress due to COVID-19, people must prioritize getting their flu shot.”
Relieving Physician Stress and Burnout
In today’s COVID-world, every physician practice and health system is under added stress. In fact, in a recent JAMA study, over 50% of healthcare providers reported symptoms of depression and over 70% reported symptoms of distress. We believe the POC should be a place that can support healthcare providers that are serving their patients, so we must use this channel to help relieve physician stress. We can use POC platforms to help manage various diseases and conditions, providing educational and actionable messaging patients may not otherwise get. This will both give patients trusted information and relieve some of the burden on healthcare providers to do this so they can manage treating flu against the backdrop of the pandemic. This support will be especially important in resource-limited settings where there may be a weaker healthcare infrastructure or the one community doctor is the entire healthcare system in that area.
Additionally, now that more healthcare providers are leveraging telehealth solutions, we have the ability to plug into virtual meeting spaces to make these appointment experiences even more valuable. Whether it’s during the wait for an appointment to begin or part of the meeting experience, we can use this digital space to provide information and resources that help patients navigate this year’s flu season.
As the country battles the ongoing pandemic and prepares for the seasonal flu virus, our role as healthcare marketers has never been more important. We have the opportunity to help ensure our healthcare providers can handle the load from their communities by reaching patients and caregivers with critical information when it is needed most.