As doctor visits require extensive productivity in shorter amounts of time, health care providers are relying on virtual care programs to help patients self-manage and stay safe. Many health systems have begun offering virtual care programs as an option for self-management and education with chronic illnesses such as diabetes.
In April, 69% of patients with chronic illnesses told an InCrowd survey that the pandemic had affected their management abilities. Studies have also shown that individuals with chronic illnesses are at higher risk for more serious consequences from COVID-19. One study stated that patients with diabetes are more likely to develop pneumonia, another showing that 50% of admitted patients suffered from hypertension.
At the same time, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 34.2 million Americans suffer from diabetes, and 88 million Americans are prediabetic. The vast number of individuals living with diabetes, as well as the potential risk factors associated with exposure to COVID-19 at in-person appointments, makes diabetes management a strong candidate for virtual care.
Virtual care programs also have the potential to reach the 33 million individuals who are without convenient geographical access to clinics, and the 47 million living in heavily populated areas that lack physicians. Virtual program models are often centered around the need to serve in health professional shortage areas (HPSAs). In September 2020, 81 million people were living in 7,200 official HPSAs. In the case of diabetes care, virtual programs can help to serve individuals who may otherwise have not been able to effectively manage their diabetes due to lack geographic access to in-person care.
Beyond addressing access concerns, virtual diabetes management programs are effective due to the types of care and assistance they’re able to provide. For example, a program could include varied care options for different types of diabetes and could then provide tailored self-management strategies, assistance with lifestyle decision-making, and online data tracking.
Diabetes also impacts patients in very different ways, and can be affected by factors such as weight, activity level, blood pressure, family history, diet, and more. As models are developed, they can easily be altered to fit the specific needs of a patient at different stages, making it an ideal model for diabetes management.
While virtual care will not necessarily replace face-to-face doctor visits, virtual care can certainly work to reduce unnecessary appointments and hospital visits and can provide accessible and personalized education to patients, helping them to effectively manage their chronic illness.