There is a lot of information—true and false—about the COVID-19 pandemic swirling around the internet. People want to know if their symptoms are related to the new novel coronavirus and what care they should seek if any. More and more, telehealth services are the most efficient way for healthcare consumers to get answers while abiding by safer-at-home directives.
In general, the virus has been more dangerous for older people and those with underlying chronic health issues such as weakened immune systems, high blood pressure and lung disease. Yet the data shows that the virus strikes all ages.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recently provided information that gives us a look at the age breakdown of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the United States:
At Carenet Health, our clinical teams are working 24/7 to help thousands of patients daily across the nation with their coronavirus concerns by offering nurse advice line support for COVID-19 and Virtual Clinic care. And our RNs, who triage telehealth cases and provide care guidance, have a unique view of the pandemic.
We asked our telehealth nursing staff to weigh in and provide their own insights relating to how different age groups are experiencing and reacting to the pandemic. Following is a summary of our questions, and what we learned and heard.
Now that we’re a few weeks into the COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S., what changes are you seeing in the demographics of callers accessing telehealth services?
- There have been an increased number of telehealth coronavirus cases ages 18-45 who are concerned with COVID-19, asking questions and saying they are having tightness in their chests, especially when taking deep breaths. They all want to be tested and want to know how. Many have a mild cough without fever. Most of the patients in this age group are younger. I would say about 75% are 18-28 years old. Many assume they are positive even without known exposure. I have only had a few mothers calling about infants and toddlers that are concerned with any suspected COVID-19 symptoms.
- I’ve gotten cases across the spectrum of ages, ranging from very young to elderly. But younger patients (college-age to under 25) are now suddenly concerned because they have been away from home and in large crowds. I have also noticed a lot of younger people and parents have more concerns than elderly callers. Most older callers really don’t want to go anywhere, even if they are sick, because they seem to be more cautious.
- I’ve noticed a large number of college-age students who are symptomatic and have known exposures. Most are scared and unsure of what to do and if they should go to the hospital or seek other treatment, such as telehealth visits.
What are you hearing from telehealth patients who are middle-aged?
- The mental health of telehealth patients is always a concern, and they are very scared right now. Several callers from this age group are especially concerned they will infect their elderly parents and are asking for precautions and advice.
- During the evening hours, I am getting calls from moms in their late 30s to 40s who are concerned with children running high fevers for two days or more, along with coughs.
What about elderly patients?
- Older patients are usually calling to ask if they can be around their grandchildren or for education regarding risk factors.
- Many telehealth nursing callers express concerns about seeking help from the emergency department, even if they have symptoms for which they would normally get in-person care. They don’t want to go anywhere that people are coughing.
- Most of my elderly cases simply want help with at-home care. They’re very cautious and want to avoid the ER and urgent care, and even their primary care, at all costs.
What symptoms are most prevalent in the telehealth coronavirus cases you’ve managed so far?
- Education is a double-edged sword. Several callers report sudden loss of taste and smell. Everyone seems to have shortness of breath. However, with only one exception, no one was actually short of breath based on speech.
- The majority of symptoms are shortness of breath, chest heaviness and fever and cough. But if a person has even one of those symptoms, they call us. One thing the telehealth nursing callers all mostly have in common is the desire to be tested.
- Trying to decipher chest heaviness from a breathing or cardiac issue can be difficult. They don’t want to go to the ED or call 911. Many say it may just be their anxiousness about the COVID-19 situation. A lot of callers want alternatives to going out to see a doctor.
- I am finding the chest tightness with scratchy throats are more ages 25-40s that mention they are worried about having COVID-19. Across the board, I am finding that people are waiting to seek treatment for serious illnesses not related to the virus due to fear of coming in contact with COVID-19.
As the news about COVID-19 continues to develop, those offering telehealth to members and patients must continue to adapt to provide positive patient experiences. Staying informed about what telehealth nursing teams and other virtual care professionals on the frontlines are hearing from patients is a critical part of helping top telehealth providers for COVID-19 meet the needs of patients during the pandemic and beyond.