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Many have avoided or delayed medical care during the COVID-19 pandemic. Employers should encourage their employees to get back into the habit of seeing doctors.
As a primary care physician, it’s in my blood to promote the benefits of preventive and routine care.
From high blood pressure to depression to funny-looking moles, there are so many things that can be detected and treated early during routine healthcare visits. But wait too long, and these problems can compound and lead to poor outcomes.
That’s why I’ve been watching with some alarm as reports continue to show that people have been putting off routine healthcare during the pandemic. According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 40% of adults in the U.S. delayed or avoided early medical care during the pandemic because of safety or financial concerns.
But delays related to the pandemic will end over time. Soon, we will face a massive backlog of patients who have skipped routine care and gotten out of the practice of having a healthcare routine. This is particularly top of mind for employers that are trying to encourage their employees to get back into this healthy habit.
Once someone has gotten out of the rhythm of visiting their doctor or dentist regularly, it might take them a while to get back in the swing of things; some people will go years without seeing their doctor for regular care. We know that when care is missed, problems mount. Simple issues become complicated, and missed preventive care can have long-term consequences.
How can employers help people get back to normal as it relates to medical care? Here are a few suggestions for encouraging health plan members to return to a healthcare routine.
1. Work with providers and payers to increase communication to members who need care.
Collaboration with providers and payers can help tailor member outreach to those who are behind on routine care. Payers have claims information that can sort out which members are missing needed care, and providers know which patients are overdue for a visit.
People respond better to messaging that comes from multiple channels, and getting a reminder from a payer, provider, and employer can increase engagement.
2. Improve education for patients while emphasizing the need for routine care.
Employers should redouble their efforts to communicate the value of preventive and routine care to their members. A major focus of health plan communication in 2022 and 2023 should be encouraging people to schedule appointments with their physicians, dentists, and other healthcare providers for regular health checkups.
3. Focus wellness initiatives in 2022 and 2023 on promoting routine care.
Employers should tailor wellness offerings in the coming months to encourage routine care. Employers who have incentive budgets to work with can provide financial encouragement to people for going to see providers for routine visits.
Some employers offer a cash bonus for simply seeing their doctor for a preventive visit once per year; 2022 might be the perfect year to introduce this idea to an employee population.
I suspect this slump in preventive and routine care will extend through the remainder of 2022 — and possibly even into 2023. Employers that want to be mindful of the health and well-being of their employees would be well-served to focus on this issue now to prevent problems from compounding in the future.
Jay Moore, M.D., is the chief clinical officer of Paytient, a company focused on helping people better access and afford care. Paytient works with employers, partners, brokers, and health systems to provide a healthier way to pay for out-of-pocket care expenses.