By Diana Twiggs, MD
It is not an exaggeration to say the coronavirus pandemic forever changed the healthcare industry. COVID-19 changed the way patients interact with their family doctors or primary care physicians, but it also altered how they view the medical profession.
Thankfully, the worst of the pandemic likely appears to be behind us, but the COVID-19 aftershock is still reverberating throughout the healthcare system. For example:
More patients are turning to telehealth, which represented less than 1% of patient visits before the pandemic, but now account for 8%, according to the Peterson-KFF Health System Tracker.
In its 2022 “Trust Barometer Special Report: Trust and Health,” global communications firm Edelman found that 55% of respondents “worry medical science is becoming politicized or being used to support a specific political agenda.”
Because consumers delayed care during the pandemic, patient acuity at our country’s hospitals has increased 10% from 2019 to 2021, according to the American Hospital Association.
Those three trends – increasing reliance on telehealth, distrust of the healthcare industry and patients delaying care – are not going away for the foreseeable future. But by taking a closer look at the lessons learned during the pandemic, our industry can course-correct so we can continue providing the best possible care for our patients.
Consumers and physicians have embraced telehealth’s accessibility and convenience
When conducted properly, the pandemic taught the medical profession that telehealth can make it easier for patients to receive treatment from their family doctor or primary care physician. Consumers discovered that all it takes is a reliable internet connectionand they can receive quality care in the comfort of their home – and not have to travel and sit in a waiting room.
Doctors also embraced telehealth because they were able to serve patients who were hesitant to seek treatment during the pandemic. But physicians also learned how effective it can be as a tool to better schedule and manage office visits, which could free them up to spend more time diagnosing and treating patients.
However, one of the lessons learned from the pandemic is that some medical practitioners cut corners with their telehealth services, which put patients at risk. Some mental health companies, for example, are under investigation for improper evaluation and treatment of patients, including excessive prescriptions for controlled substances. These services have been found to make unrealistic promises, such as receiving an accurate mental health diagnosis just by filling out a form or by having a 30-minute visit. As a profession, we need to remind patients it can sometimes be difficult to assess and diagnose a health problem on Zoom. A proper diagnosis and treatment plan requires a thorough in-person evaluation and follow-up over time to ensure the right care.
Inconsistent messaging during the pandemic led to consumer distrust
Trust is at the heart of a healthy patient-doctor relationship and essential for effective treatment. Patient trust in the healthcare industry, however, was shaken to its core during the pandemic because of conflicting, inconsistent and sometimes outright false messaging about COVID-19.
The good news is that 75% of consumers are satisfied with their healthcare, according to Huron Consulting Group. The bad news, unfortunately, is that Huron found that 60% of consumers say they would switch to another doctor if they trusted that professional more.
To build trust in the wake of the pandemic, physicians will need to spend extra care talking with patients and encouraging them to ask questions and be open about their health and concerns. We will have to pay more attention to explain treatment plans and goals and to reassure them we are always acting in their best interest.
The pandemic left many consumers stressed about their health and care
In 20 years of practice, I have never seen so much anxiety and distress from my patients. My colleagues are also reporting a huge increase in the number of phone calls and messages we receive on our online healthcare portal, often about minor symptoms or concerns. My colleagues in behavioral health fields are also seeing extremely high levels of anxiety and other mental health conditions.
When facing stress and fear, many patients delay care and place less emphasis on their overall health. Edelman found that 65% percent of respondents in its “Trust Barometer Special Report: Trust and Health” report said there is a “gap between ‘how well I am taking care of myself’ versus ‘how well I should be.’”
One of the most important things we can do as doctors is make sure our patients are back on track with their care. We need to encourage them to have their annual wellness visits and meet with their physician, especially for care that has been postponed as a result of the pandemic.
After a tumultuous several years and a shifting healthcare ecosystem, the lessons learned from an embrace of barrier-breaking technology, to a need to support patient-physician trust and a focus on self-care can help us emerge from this pandemic stronger and healthier than ever before.
Dr. Diana Twiggs is a board certified family medicine physician in Fernandina Beach, where she has practiced medicine for over 20 years. Dr. Twiggs attended medical school at the University of Florida in Gainesville and completed her residency at Halifax Medical Center in Daytona Beach. She is a past president and former board member of the Florida Academy of Family Physicians.
One great Doctor!
One thing about covID is that has made people aware that after Obamacare most doctors now work for hospitals. Few are in private practice. They are not longer free to do what they think is best for the patient. They must follow the protocol and the protocol is all about making money. Anyone that was involved in the suppression of Ivermectin should spend eternity in the fortress by the lake of fire.
From my observations, the coronavirus has destroyed trust in the medical profession and science in general. It has caused incalculable harm to the doctor/patient sacred relationship. Doctors were shackled by their corporate boards. Although many believed in prescribing hydroxychloriquin or ivermectin, they would be fired for doing that. I got severely damaged from the “vaccine” and my doctor told me secretly to never get another one. Politics forced doctors to violate the Hippocratic oath. Damage has been done that can never be fixed.
My wife and I totally agree with the comment by Kathy Anderson. My wife and I have no trust in the COVID Vaccine. We have too many horror stories we could tell but won’t in this forum.
…..and never forget where the virus came from and the players involved in it becoming a worldwide pandemic. COMMUNIST CHINA, NIH (Anthony Fauchi), Bill Gates.
So nice to hear from a local doctor about our healthcare problems. Also, very encouraging to know she understands how patients are reacting to the issue. She seems to have a solution to help us navigate through these unusual times.
Big Pharma money has captured medicine, the media, our healthcare agencies, and the politicians. The corruption that led to the approach used has been going on for decades, and anyone interested enough can do the research to find this out. The true heroes were the physicians that stepped out and went against the narrative and agenda. Had early treatment regimens not been suppressed, hundreds of thousands of Americans wouldn’t have died and millions worldwide would’ve been saved. Don’t believe what I have to say? Refer to RFK, Jr’s book “The Real Anthony Fauci,” A well researched book that Kennedy has encouraged debate about, and an encouragement and willingness for anyone out there to prove anything he says is wrong. To date no takers.
Everyone should read The RFKjr book ‘The Real Anthony Fauci’ but it’s extremely dense there is also a documentary based on the book you can watch free here and judge for yourself…
it’s quite astounding!!
One continuing issue is that those that cannot wear masks – I mean physically unable to, not just that they don’t want to – still cannot go to the hospital, and are typically turned away for routine medical care. That needs to change. It’s been almost three years.
Also there have been ZERO studies to show the masks did anything to prevent the Covid Virus transmission and actually many studies that have been suppressed by Big Tech and Big Media to prove the opposite mostly because the average mask being worn does not block the virus size molecules
Our healthcare professionals, as demonstrated by this pragmatic and empathetic letter, are an asset to us all. The author sheds more light on a growing trend which should make us all stop, reflect, and quietly confront the manner in which we live our lives.
Moreover, anyone who is lucky enough to have a provider at any level who not only understands the shifting sands within the Healthcare marketplace yet is simultaneously leaning into and harnessing the opportunities to better serve their patients is fabulous.
Healthcare is a 2-way street,- a relationship that begins with putting ourselves first in life and sharing that journey with a provider of our choice to ensure that journey is both beautiful and fruitful. Kudos to Dr Twiggs and the many, many healthcare providers and professionals who share her passion, competence, and emotional intelligence.