COVID-19 has prompted clinicians to change how they deliver care and to reallocate resources toward the most urgent needs on a global scale.1 Patients with diseases ranging from Parkinson disease to chronic pain have been forced to wait for extended periods of time for necessary interventions and treatments. Consequently, many have experienced higher levels of pain, depression, and an overall lower quality of life.2

Compounding this issue is the fact that patients with neurologic conditions, including movement disorders, and those with chronic conditions seem to be at higher risk for COVID-193 but may be reluctant to seek medical intervention in the midst of the pandemic.4 This reluctance has allowed certain chronic conditions to progress to urgent health issues.4

But it is not all bad news.


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The challenges COVID-19 presents are driving the adoption of digital and telehealth platforms around the world, particularly for patients with chronic conditions. A recent McKinsey & Company survey indicated that about 90% of physicians are offering virtual appointments and are planning to continue offering virtual care well into the future.5 US consumer adoption of telehealth has also skyrocketed, from 11% in 2019 to more than 4 times that today.6

Using technology to monitor and share medical data is not a new concept. Health providers have used telehealth to monitor patients living with chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, and pulmonary conditions. Throughout the pandemic, telehealth has helped manage almost every condition, including the ongoing treatment of a physical condition or ailment (44%) and evaluation of suspected COVID-19 infections (30%).7

Telehealth could become a long-term option for people with neurologic conditions if platforms are accessible, affordable, and offered in sustainable models beyond the initial pandemic response. To achieve this, providers need a data-driven approach to develop strategies that digitally enhance the health care journey and improve patient outcomes. For example, Bluetooth communication between an implanted neuromodulation device and the user’s programmer can now provide a secure transfer of information that allows physicians to remotely engage with patients and treat debilitating chronic pain.8

Another example is deep brain stimulation (DBS), which is often used to treat Parkinson disease and essential tremors. Recent advancements in DBS systems allow physicians to access and program a DBS system and monitor outcomes using Bluetooth wireless technology. It is also an opportunity for patients with chronic pain to consult a physician, track their pain levels, and adapt management accordingly, bypassing the need for short-term acute measures to manage their condition.

However, the benefits of digitally delivered care and telehealth don’t end here. Connective technology can also help those living in rural communities, where access to specialized care is not always easily available. Rural communities have experienced health provider shortages due to hospital closures and the shift of physicians to urban areas.9 As a result, patients have had to travel further to receive care, which increases the burden on senior citizens and low-income Americans.10 Without alternative solutions such as digital and telehealth options, these populations are more likely to delay or forego necessary care.10

Technology will drive innovation in healthcare.

The COVID-19 pandemic proves the value of investing in technologies that help patients and physicians make decisions about health in ways that fit seamlessly into their lives. This includes developing digital health solutions that reduce the burden of chronic conditions, exploring how proven technologies may be used in new ways, and determining how these innovations can be used in conjunction with ever-increasing smart technology. With decades of safety and efficacy supporting neuromodulation therapies, manufacturers are investigating how electroceuticals may expand options in other areas, such as chronic postsurgical pain.

Physicians and patients alike must understand that the trend toward telehealth and digital healthcare is likely to continue and influence practice. As many patients with chronic conditions strive to live a healthier lifestyle, the enhanced connectivity of these approaches will serve as a way to speak with physicians about minor issues and to be proactive about management. Such abilities can potentially resolve signs and symptoms that otherwise may progress to more serious conditions when left unchecked.

Additionally, the continued integration of digital-health capabilities will allow for more personalized, patient-centric therapy. By utilizing data, artificial intelligence, and machine learning, future neuromodulation therapies will be able to target the specific needs of the individual. This would further inform physicians regarding who might benefit from these advanced and integrated treatment platforms.

Now is the time to help patients and providers utilize digital and remote health options. Shifting the market to more user-friendly technology can enable people living with chronic pain to live beyond their debilitating conditions and maintain hope in this unprecedented time.

Disclosure: Keith Boettiger is President of Abbott Neuromodulation.

References

1. Eccleston C, Blyth FM, Dear BF, et al. Managing patients with chronic pain during the COVID-19 outbreak: considerations for the rapid introduction of remotely supported (eHealth) pain management services. Pain J Online. 2020; 161(5):889-893.

2. Lynch ME, Campbell FA, Clark AJ, et al. A systematic review of the effect of waiting for treatment for chronic pain. Pain. 2008;136(1-2):97-116.

3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. People with Certain Medical Conditions. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/people-with-medical-conditions.html. Updated December 1, 2020. Accessed December 21, 2020.

4. Mauro V, Lorenzo M, Paolo C, Sergio H. Treat all COVID 19-positive patients, but do not forget those negative with chronic diseases. Intern Emerg Med. Published online June 9, 2020. doi:10.1007/s11739-020-02395-z

5. Gibler K, Kattan O, Malani R, Medford-Davis L. Physician employment: The path forward in the COVID-19 era. McKinsey and Company Healthcare Systems and Services. Published July 17, 2020. Accessed December 21, 2020. https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/healthcare-systems-and-services/our-insights/physician-employment-the-path-forward-in-the-covid-19-era

6. Bestsennyy O, Gilbert G, Harris A, Rost J. Telehealth: A quarter-trillion-dollar post-COVID-19 reality? McKinsey and Company Healthcare Systems and Services.  Published May 29, 2020. Accessed December 21, 2020. https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/healthcare-systems-and-services/our-insights/telehealth-a-quarter-trillion-dollar-post-covid-19-reality#

7. Price Cooper Waterhouse. The COVID-19 pandemic is influencing consumer health behavior. Are the changes here to stay? Published April 2020. Accessed December 21, 2020. https://www.pwc.com/us/en/library/covid-19/covid-19-consumer-behavior.html

8. Price Cooper Waterhouse. The COVID-19 pandemic is influencing consumer health behavior. What does this mean for healthcare providers? Published May 2020. Accessed December 21, 2020. https://www.pwc.com/us/en/library/covid-19/pdf/pwc-us-health-covid-19-survey-healthcare-providers_5-11.pdf

9. Abbott receives FDA approval for IOS-compatible app allowing people living with chronic pain and movement disorders to personalize therapy via their mobile device [news release]. Abbott Park, IL. Abbott; July 23, 2020. https://abbott.mediaroom.com/2020-07-23-Abbott-Receives-FDA-Approval-for-iOS-Compatible-App-Allowing-People-Living-With-Chronic-Pain-and-Movement-Disorders-to-Personalize-Therapy-Via-Their-Mobile-Device. Accessed December 21, 2020.

10. Majerol M, Nadler J, Schulte A. Narrowing the rural-urban health divide: Bringing virtual health to rural communities. Deloitte. November 27, 2019. https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/insights/industry/public-sector/virtual-health-telemedicine-rural-areas.html. Accessed December 21, 2020.

This article originally appeared on Neurology Advisor