When it comes to rates of infection and addiction, both the coronavirus pandemic and the opioid epidemic disproportionately impact the poorest and most vulnerable members of society. As physicians, it’s critical to understand the dynamics of this phenomenon to provide optimal levels of care. Additionally, all healthcare professionals should recognize that the uncertainty of present times can lead to poor decision making that further elevates risks.
As you continue to treat your patients, remain aware of the increased pressures they may face as a result of current events. Engage proactively in conversations about behavior modification to promote optimal health outcomes.
Social Determinants of Health — How They Impact Infectious Disease and Addiction
Some news pundits refer to COVID-19 as the great equalizer, because viruses don’t discriminate based on income. However, the converse is true—if anything, the coronavirus is akin to pulling the curtains back on the Wizard of Oz. It reveals how stark income disparities have grown in America and the effect this inequality has on public health.
For example, food service workers make up some of the most vulnerable frontline employees. They earn the lowest pay and often lack access to benefits like health insurance and paid leave. Even if they want to take time off to protect themselves and others, a single sick day can make the difference between affording the rent and not. While some corporations have added paid leave in the wake of the pandemic, not all workers feel safe exercising this option. Because of the excessive burden of stress these individuals shoulder, they are more likely to fall prey to addiction. They may try a drug once out of a desire for a quick mental escape and before they know it, become hooked.
During this time, those who are struggling to overcome substance abuse may find their treatment protocol interrupted, which could lead to relapse. Even though opioid treatment programs are considered essential medical facilities, some patients may hesitate to attend counseling or pick up medications out of fear of infection.
Furthermore, people who inject substances often have weakened immune systems due to recurrent exposure to viruses like hepatitis B and C. They may also suffer from infections at the injection site that tap their body’s reserves. Finally, they may make poor choices when under the influence, such as failing to wash their hands after venturing into public.
As a result, providers may see a glut of patients showing symptoms of the virus. They should also get ready for an influx of overdoses. Preparing for these eventualities is a crucial part of practice management during these uncertain times.
What Physician’s Offices Should Do to Protect Patients and Provide Top-Notch CareUnder the new normal, doctors should take additional measures to protect themselves, the public, and their patients. Implement the following steps to ensure the highest quality of care.
Measures to Protect Yourselves and the Public
Upon arrival at the facility, inform all visitors about the proper procedures to follow. Most will comply if they know what to do. Provide ample supplies, including alcohol-based hand sanitizer, tissues, face masks, and non-touch trash cans. Clean and disinfect all areas of the facility regularly.
You may also need to adjust your scheduling procedures. Strive to avoid having patients share the waiting area by leaving ample time between appointments. Whenever possible, arrange to use telemedicine for routine visits. For example, patients who are coming in for medication checks only can obtain prescription refills via this method if the law in your jurisdiction allows.
Reaching Out to the Most Vulnerable Patients
Additionally, you can elevate your practice by reaching out to those patients with the direst needs. For example, if you routinely treat individuals struggling with opioid addiction, have your front office staff contact them to ask about adherence to their treatment regimen.
Some individuals might not know that organizations such as Narcotics Anonymous offer online and phone meetings, as well as in-person sessions. If they were working with a therapist before the shutdown occurred, they can often continue treatment with their same provider by telephone or computer.
Helping Your Patients Struggling with Opioid Addiction During the COVID-19 Crisis
When addiction collides with a pandemic, the most vulnerable patients often experience the worst outcomes. You can play a role in changing that dynamic by taking proactive measures to reach out to those who need it the most.