In it for the long (COVID) haul: why and how primary care providers need support treating seniors

It’s been more than three years since shutdowns and quarantines hit the US. In that time, we’ve seen cases rise and fall, manufacturers produce vaccines, mask mandates ramp up then relax, and life (for many) return to a version of normal.

But that progress doesn’t detract from a health emergency that could shape the future of elder care in this country: long COVID.

In this blog, we spell out two concepts: (1) the impact that long COVID has on primary care providers and their elderly patients as well as (2) how a comprehensive value-based pharmacy system can help save physicians time while improving patient health outcomes. Let’s dive in.

The why: long COVID will test the resilience of primary care providers – and especially elderly patients – for decades

Often patients’ first point of contact for patients, primary care providers are at the front lines of any public health crisis.

At their best, primary care physicians assess health risks for their patients, communicate with other providers and specialists when necessary, and continue to monitor patients’ health for the duration of the patient-provider relationship. It’s a uniquely demanding function within the broader healthcare system.

What’s more: the most recent data available shows that 40 percent of PCPs see 11 to 20 patients per day (with more than a quarter seeing 21 to 30). If that sounds like a lot of work, that’s because it is. Even before COVID, primary care was a taxing field – failing to attract medical students or keep physicians in its ranks.

Tack on a global pandemic that complicates the long-term health for, roughly, 20 percent of the infected population and it’s easy to see why primary care providers desperately need support. It’s even easier when you dig a bit deeper and consider the healthcare strain associated with one of the most affected populations: seniors.

Of course it’s no surprise that elderly patients require more care. Eighty-five percent of them have at least one chronic condition. But here’s the kicker. That figure is from before the pandemic – meaning the number is likely higher today. Case in point: a 2021 study found that nearly one-third of older adults who survived COVID-19 sought medical attention in the months that followed their infection to address “new or persistent symptoms.”

Primary care teams are now engaging with and delivering care to a sicker population of seniors. Still, that’s only part of the issue. Yes, the share of chronically-ill seniors has grown. But so will the sheer number of seniors (from 54 million in 2019 to a projected 81 million by 2040). That means primary care providers will need to deliver care to a sicker and much larger population of older adults in the coming decades.

Though qualified to do this work, many primary care teams are already stretched for time. Without any additional bandwidth, physicians won’t be able to meet the swell of healthcare demands that come from an aging population with long COVID. Fortunately, this is where our “how” comes in.

The how: a comprehensive value-based pharmacy system can help save time, automate work, and enhance elder care protocols

As the number of seniors with long COVID increases, primary care providers will need to increasingly…

  1. Coordinate with other healthcare providers.
  2. Act as public health experts.
  3. Monitor long COVID symptoms.

With the help of a dedicated pharmacy function, that work becomes much easier. Below, we’ll use these three duties to break down how RxLive’s value-based pharmacy system can relieve workloads for providers delivering care to elderly patients with long COVID.

1. Coordinate with other healthcare providers by using streamlined EHR workflows

If a symptom of long COVID, like persistent chest pains, requires a second opinion or specialist, it’s up to primary care providers to make any necessary referrals. But before contacting a pulmonologist or cardiologist, a PCP needs to make sure their patient’s EHR is up to date.

RxLive’s value-based pharmacy system deepens the value of this patient data by integrating with existing EHR platforms and ingesting the data to offer guided treatment plans. 

For example, let’s say your patient visits the cardiologist you referred them to. The cardiologist prescribes your patient nitroglycerin for the chest pain and updates the EHR to reflect the change. Three months later, a pharmacist tells you they reviewed your patient’s diagnostic determinants and noticed your patient didn’t refill their prescription this month.

Because you can sort patient information by diagnostic determinants, you’re able to speak with your patient and understand their medication nonadherence before it becomes an emergency.

2. Act as public health experts by leveraging care management analytics

With COVID protocols being in a semi-constant state of flux, more seniors than ever look to their PCPs as trusted advisors. To that end, RxLive’s technology platform (My.RxLive) lets physician-led care teams review clinically-validated protocols to help personalize treatment plans for patients with long COVID.

In other words, if a patient with long COVID comes in complaining of chest pain, providers can reference My.RxLive for any existing protocols that align with the patient’s health determinants. Then the provider – or pharmacist – can use this information to…

  1. Create a personalized care plan.
  2. Educate the patient on a regimen’s purpose and intended outcomes.
  3. Preemptively curb medication non-adherence risk.

The result: patients leave with a greater understanding of why, for instance, taking medications as prescribed is so important – and providers save time while delivering more impactful care.

3. Monitor long COVID symptoms using better telehealth technology

In some cases, an in-person visit makes sense. But in others – where an elderly patient, say, needs a formulary review – telehealth saves time while tapping into the medication expertise of pharmacists.

RxLive’s telehealth solution helps level-up your existing pharmacy program, empowering physician-led care teams to help track and monitor any changing patient conditions. And with long COVID symptoms being as varied as they are, these one-on-one consultations give…

  1. Patients time to describe everything they’re experiencing AND
  2. Pharmacists and physician-led care teams the real-time information they need to, in combination with EHR data, enhance patient care regimens.

We know telehealth isn’t going anywhere. It helps older patients make more appointments and saves PCPs time. So deepen that value. Offer your patients – and care team – a telehealth that’s data-rich and easy to navigate.

People may be sick of discussing the pandemic, but long COVID is real and primary care providers need help

Fatigue. It’s a symptom of COVID-19 and a “symptom” of hearing about COVID-19 for the past three years.

But that fatigue is exactly why we should continue discussing the virus and why it’s so important to highlight. We need to stay vigilant. Healthcare leaders can’t bury their heads in the sand and pretend long COVID won’t impact their jobs – or that it doesn’t already.

We need to come up with ways to handle the multi-faceted demands of long COVID, a growing population of seniors, and a dwindling primary care workforce. Interested in hearing how technology-powered pharmacy can help? Reach out – we want to help.

Kristen Engelen, PharmD
Kristen Engelen, PharmD, is the chief pharmacy officer of RxLive and a certified consultant pharmacist; she has over a decade of experience in retail pharmacy settings. Kristen became an RxLive co-founder because of her passion for geriatric pharmacy, with a focus on the intersection of pharmacy and aging.