- A coalition of providers, payers and other healthcare organizations on Tuesday launched an ad campaign to encourage patients not to put off important care during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- The announcement encourages people to continue social distancing but not "medical distancing" by putting off routine care or avoiding checking on concerning symptoms. That could be either through telemedicine or an in-person visit.
- The campaign will be on TV, in print and across social media. The 11 organizations behind it include Providence, Humana, Baylor Scott & White, LabCorp and Walgreens.
While some hospitals in hotspots in Texas, Florida, California and Arizona have had to once again put off non-emergency procedures, providers in other areas of the country are trying to ramp up regular patient volumes as the number of positive cases eases.
Surveys show, however, that people are wary of returning to the doctor's office, either because they worry about exposure to the novel coronavirus or have lost coverage to help pay for care.
The new ad campaign seeks to ease these concerns. No dollar figure was attached to the plan, which advertising agency MullenLowe U.S. took on pro bono. It follows an ad the American Hospital Association launched in May to ensure the public facilities are still available for non-COVID-19 care.
Since the pandemic's onset in the United States, health officials have been concerned about the short- and long-term consequences of routine and preventive care being delayed or put off entirely. Chronic diseases that are caught early can be managed more easily and less expensively.
Also, research shows even some crucial services aren't being sought even for issues such as strokes and heart attacks. In April, emergency room visits nationwide dropped more than 40%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Public health experts are also beginning to fear vaccinations may be avoided, which could cause trouble with the upcoming flu season.
For providers the reduction in patient volumes has meant a major revenue loss. Some patient volume has been recaptured, but that rolled back again in recent weeks with hospitals in large states like Texas and Florida again reaching capacity with a COVID-19 surge.
At the end of June, hospital traffic in Arizona, New York and Texas was down week over week, according to an analysis from Jefferies.
Primary care has particularly suffered. Visits to medical offices were down nearly 60% in March and April, meaning losses to those practices could top $15 billion this year, according to a recent Health Affairs study.
The ad campaign stresses that providers have guidelines in place to keep patients safe, such as isolation of those suspected of having COVID-19 and increased virtual options.
"While we understand the fears that many people have around contracting the virus, our country's medical facilities have adopted CDC guidelines and best practices and even telemedicine options to make your visit as safe as possible to prevent the spread of the virus," Humana CMO William Shrank said in a statement. "The intent of the campaign is to let people know that protecting yourself against getting this virus does not need to come at the expense of your overall health."