Originally published in The Tennessean, May 2020
During the COVID-19 pandemic, you may have put off our routine medical care. It may feel natural, as many of us have been following safety protocols and postponing non-essential appointments of all kinds over the past few months. But now more than ever, it’s important for all of us to get the preventive care we need — and easier since BlueCross and some other insurers are waiving some member costs and making telehealth resources more accessible.
I often hear about people who haven’t managed health conditions like heart disease as well as they should. Take, for example, a woman in her mid-60s with heart disease who may have been unable to make healthy lifestyle choices after her diagnosis, or hasn’t addressed the depression that may have resulted from it, or doesn’t take her medications as directed by her physician.
This can all lead to her immune system being compromised, and her being more at risk of complications from other illnesses, such as the novel coronavirus.
That doesn’t mean falling ill from the coronavirus is the fault of anyone living with a chronic health condition. Even if someone is taking all the recommended steps, they could still have a harder time managing their health due to factors outside their control.
Minorities often serve in public-facing essential roles, and as a result, are less able to work from home. These communities face unique social challenges related to housing and food deserts.
Numbers of note
The coronavirus has disproportionately impacted those communities here in Tennessee (and across the country).
When compared to white Americans, minorities often face higher rates of illness and worse health outcomes, whether from common ailments (such as heart disease) or a novel coronavirus like COVID-19. As of May 19, African Americans in particular represent 21 percent of COVID-19 cases and roughly 31 percent of deaths across the state — despite comprising only 17 percent of the population.
These disparities and what can result for certain communities amplify why preventive care and maintenance are so important.
Steps you can take
As a physician, I stress making your provider your partner in your care. They are committed to your health journey and can recommend and schedule routine preventive health screenings. You can also work with your PCP to build a medical support team. Have questions about healthy food choices when options are limited? Consult a dietitian who can identify resources in your area. Concerned about your mental health? Find a behavioral health care coordinator with whom you can share your feelings.
And as many of us continue to stay home more than usual, make healthy lifestyle changes a family-and-friends affair. For example, you can plan meals as a family or create a fitness routine together. Taking these steps can help you or your loved ones prepare for the unexpected, whether it be a new fight like COVID-19, or a familiar one like the flu.
Whatever your path forward, BlueCross is committed to supporting you. We’ve made it easier for our members to get the care they need by waiving all cost-sharing for testing and treatment related to COVID-19 until the end of this national emergency.
For challenged communities in particular, we’re sharing information on COVID-19 testing, texting online resources to members who are high-risk and face social or health care disparities, and proactively contacting and emailing members who fall into certain susceptible categories to discuss safety precautions.
We’d like to thank all of the frontline and essential workers for your remarkable service. We wish you the best of health. Even if you are living with a chronic disease, it does not define you. With proper management, you can still enjoy a healthy, fulfilling life. During these difficult times, resources to help you do so are available.