The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that influenza was associated with more than 35.5 million illnesses, more than 16.5 million medical visits, 490,600 hospitalizations, and 34,200 deaths during the 2018–2019 influenza season. Even so, during last year’s flu season, only 45% of people in the US received the flu vaccine.
This upcoming flu season, however, will be unlike any other.
As JAMA writes, “the US for the first time will have to deal with a flu season wrapped in a global pandemic.” The two illnesses have similar symptoms at the onset, but require different treatment, making it crucial for care teams across the country to stay vigilant. After all, even in non-pandemic years, influenza and causes of pneumonia account for the eighth leading cause of death in the United States.
The complications of COVID-19
In a country that has already lost nearly 200,000 people to COVID-19 in less than seven months, these numbers are sobering. And, knowing that flu season is coming, as an industry, it’s important to prepare as best we can and arm our frontline workers with the tools they need to be successful and manage the spread of infection. If there are influenza spikes on top of potential future waves of COVID-19, health systems could easily be inundated beyond capacity.
With these statistics in mind, adding on the increased stress on limited healthcare resources due to COVID-19, the challenge ahead can seem like too much to handle. The good news, however, is that leaning on technology during times of crisis — whether it be a pandemic or the seasonal flu — is an effective option for educating and protecting patients and providers alike.
Here are three ways digital health tools that can support providers and their patients during this unprecedented flu season.
Awareness is essential
As a critical public health issue, one of the best ways to manage the upcoming flu season is to make sure that patients are aware of the risks from flu and, equally important, aware of how vaccinations can help protect themselves and their loved ones.
Flu seasons are unpredictable and can begin as early as October, especially in the midst of a pandemic like this one, so it’s important to remind caregivers and patients over six months of age that come into your hospitals and healthcare facilities of the benefits of getting vaccinated early in the season.
In order to increase the percentage of patients receiving flu vaccines, providers can rely on technologies like GetWell Loop care plans to help reduce prevalence and transmission rates within their communities.
Better education to reduce risk
When patients get sick during the winter months, it can be difficult for them to determine if they have the common cold, pneumonia, or the seasonal flu. Tacking on the added uncertainty of COVID-19 — which has similar symptoms to the traditional flu — it makes sense that patients will have increased anxiety this flu season.
Similar to how remote patient monitoring was used at many of our client sites during the early stages of the pandemic, it’s important for providers to lean on educational resources from trusted public health organizations to get the most up-to-date information regarding prevention, symptoms, and treatment.
GetWellNetwork’s flu prevention and vaccination content, shared via GetWell Loop, aims to debunk common myths and inform patients of the importance of vaccinations through easy-to-understand videos, guidelines, and suggestions from top medical professionals in the country, including the CDC.
Protect vulnerable populations
Not only is it important to educate patients on the differences between the flu, COVID-19, and other illnesses that are prevalent in the winter, but another piece of the puzzle is also identifying populations who are at a higher risk for developing serious flu complications.
While the flu can make anyone sick, certain people are at greater risk for serious complications from the illness, including older patients, young children, pregnant people, and those with chronic lung disease, diabetes, heart disease, neurologic conditions, and certain other long-term health conditions.
While most individuals who fall within these categories may know that they’re more susceptible to these illnesses, the GetWell Inpatient Flu pathway leverages technology to be a second line of defense by asking patients and caregivers the right questions at the right time, to ensure they understand their own personal level of risk during this season.
The bottom line
Stressful times lie ahead for the nation and the healthcare industry, and it will take continued awareness, cooperation, and education to keep as many patients healthy as possible this flu season.
In support of care teams nationwide, GetWellNetwork is offering flu care plans to clients free of charge, just as we did when COVID-19 hit health systems hard. By working together, the healthcare industry can help mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on this year’s flu season. It takes a village to keep a nation healthy — and in this case, there’s proven technology available to help aid the process.