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COVID Update: Where Are We Now?

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Bobbie Byrd

No one could have predicted that a global pandemic would upend life as we knew it in 2020. Without question, we've made significant progress in understanding, treating and implementing countermeasures to address COVID-19 as well as evolving how we approach healthcare indefinitely. As of this month, CDC estimates that half of the U.S. population has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, with most being aged 65 or older

Still, one question is especially prominent: where are we now and when will this end? While the answer is unprecedented, we can expect healthcare to continue evolving with tools like telehealth and remote patient monitoring. Click here to read more about how COVID has redefined engagement.

COVID-19 Variants

When first discovered, COVID-19 was a significant concern to the public since it is a novel coronavirus that had not previously affected humans. While scientists immediately jumped into action, healthcare professionals expected the COVID-19 virus to mutate and produce new variants - which it has. While some variants aren't a cause for concern, others may create more infectious strains or increase the risk of serious illnesses. As of August 2021, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has identified four variants of COVID-19 present in the United States.

Alpha Variant

  • First identified in the United Kingdom
  • Treatments, including vaccines, are effective against this variant

Beta Variant

  • First identified in South Africa
  • Vaccines work against this variant, although antibody treatment may be less effective

Gamma Variant

  • First identified in Japan and Brazil
  • Vaccines are effective, although certain antibody treatments are less effective

Delta Variant

  • First identified in India
  • Fully vaccinated individuals are protected, with only a small percentage showing symptoms
  • Even fully vaccinated individuals can spread this variant to others
  • Vaccines are effective against this variant

The delta variant is a major concern because of its ability to spread rapidly. However, the good news is that fully vaccinated people are at less risk of serious illness from the delta variant. Click here to learn more about National Immunization Awareness. 

If too many people in a particular area become infected with COVID-19, the local healthcare system is at risk of being overwhelmed. For this reason, emphasis on vaccination and mitigation strategies is paramount across the country. In addition, some local governments may find it necessary to reinstate some restrictions on social gatherings, limit occupancy in certain venues and/or reinstate masking protocols if infection numbers start to climb.

Engaging With Patients In A Pandemic

With the COVID-19 virus still actively spreading, healthcare professionals and their patients have adopted new ways to interact. Incorporating social distancing guidelines or mask requirements into direct patient care would seem a formidable obstacle, but healthcare professionals and patients alike have risen to the challenge. Additionally, many healthcare providers have turned to telehealth to reduce the number of in-person visits while providing personalized, virtual patient care.

Telehealth To The Rescue

When the pandemic first began, healthcare professionals were quick to embrace telehealth as a way to engage patients without a risk of exposure to contagions. By April of 2020, utilization rates for telehealth increased 78 times over the utilization rates in February of that same year. 

Fast forward to July 2021 - the use of telehealth as the primary method of patient/provider interaction has stabilized at 38 times higher than before the pandemic hit. In addition, attitudes toward remote patient monitoring have vastly improved and regulatory changes have been instituted that facilitate the expanded use of telehealth.  

Benefits Of Telehealth

Telehealth means care providers can "see" their patients by computer or smartphone - this is the future of modern healthcare and it's coming on strong. Learn more about the different types of telemedicine!

Improvements in technology make telehealth sessions easier, even for those who may not be computer savvy. More and more healthcare practices are offering an online platform or mobile app through which a patient can hold a virtual visit with doctors, practitioners as well as therapists. Not only is this method of patient and caretaker interaction less expensive, but it also decreases the risk of spreading COVID-19.

Some of the perks of telehealth for patients and providers include:

  • Offers convenience and comfort: A telehealth session with your primary care physician means you don't have to drive to the doctor's office or clinic, but rather receive care from the comfort of your own home.
  • Prevents the spread of infectious diseases. Physicians can use telehealth for prescreening and offer patients the option to not come into the office. This decreases exposure to other illnesses.  
  • Allows improved assessment. Telehealth visits allow providers to observe the patient in his/her home environment. This can help pinpoint potential environmental problems, such as allergens or other stressors.
  • Facilitates primary care and chronic condition management. Telehealth makes it easier to connect with your doctor or other healthcare providers for routine visits, resulting in optimal patient outcomes.

Moving forward into a post-pandemic world, we will all reap the benefits of a more efficient, accessible and affordable healthcare system that's blooming in the wake of COVID-19. As the healthcare industry continues to evolve and innovate improved methods of technology-enabled delivery, it is guaranteed that a future of better health awaits.

Update: Interested in the technology advancements we've made over the course of the pandemic? Go over the telehealth trends and Raintree's response in this comprehensive review!

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