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Chronic disease management is a health care issue that continues to grow in relevance and importance for patients and their health care providers.  

An estimated 6 in 10 adults in the U.S. have a chronic disease, and 4 in 10 adults in the U.S. have two or more chronic diseases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Chronic diseases are the leading causes of disability and death in the United States, and these conditions can be time-consuming and costly to manage for everyone involved.  

Chronic diseases include heart disease, cancer, chronic lung disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s diabetes, and chronic kidney disease.  

The management of chronic illnesses can be challenging for providers, meaning they need to get creative and leverage real-time technology solutions in many cases to improve care collaboration.  

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted this need even further.  

Health systems and physician practices have had to change how they do things in the face of the pandemic, and in some cases, that means restricted office access. That’s meant a move toward more virtual appointments, and the following are things that both care providers and patients should know about the management of chronic disease in a virtual setting. 

Benefits of virtual appointments 

When patients have chronic diseases, even outside of the restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic, virtual appointments can have their merits. These allow physicians to more regularly connect with patients and check in with them, without having to schedule time-consuming in-person appointments.  

Saving time, money, and other resources can be meeting an essential goal since 75% of health care spending is focused on chronic diseases as well as an elderly population. That’s not likely to go down and instead anticipated to go up.  

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to be an issue, telehealth can be used not just as general care for chronic conditions, but it can also be used as a form of triage.  

Basically, telehealth can help determine if a new symptom a patient is experiencing is part of their underlying chronic illness or perhaps stems from something altogether new.  

CMS and insurance coverage 

An issue or perhaps a question that arises for both providers and patients is whether or not telehealth appointments are covered.  

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and many commercial health plans have said they are waiving previously held telehealth requirements. That means there is a major expansion of patients with eligibility to receive telehealth, and providers can be reimbursed for these appointments in a way that’s on par with rates for in-person office visits. 

Greater access to specialized care 

Another thing health care providers and patients should recognize telehealth and the opportunities it creates is that it can boost access to specialized care.  

For example, there are an estimated 57 million Americans who live in rural areas without easy access to care facilities and particularly facilities offering specialized care.  

Most of these patients have to drive long distances to see not only their specialized care providers but even their primary care provider, and with a chronic condition that becomes especially burdensome.  

With telemedicine, these patients can form a collaborative relationship with primary and specialized health care providers from their own homes.  

Without this access, a patient may see their health deteriorate because they aren’t regularly getting the help they need.  

Lifestyle changes and monitoring 

Many of the most common chronic illnesses in the U.S. and globally are the result of certain lifestyle factors. For example, diet, obesity, smoking, alcohol use and a lack of physical activity are all primary contributors to chronic illness.  

Patients may have better outcomes with telehealth as a way to help foster lifestyle changes that they wouldn’t otherwise follow through with or remember without that regular interaction with their care provider.  

Telehealth serves as a way to remotely monitor a patient’s overall condition and also see how well they’re adhering to treatment guidelines. It’s also a good way to keep up with medication management, particularly with older patients who may have difficulties with which medicines to remember to take on a regular basis.  

Encouraging virtual appointments 

Finally, some people, particularly if they’re older or perhaps less comfortable with technology, may be reluctant to participate in virtual appointments.  

As a health care provider, you can work with them to ensure they understand how to facilitate a virtual visit. You can also reach out to them and work on following up for appointment schedule just as you would with in-person appointments. 

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