(StatePoint) More than a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s becoming clear that some patients who recover may take longer to feel like themselves than others.
A new analysis of Cigna claims data estimates that about seven to 10 percent of its commercial customers diagnosed with COVID-19 could be considered “long-haulers,” or patients experiencing symptoms for longer than 12 weeks after initially getting sick.
“Much remains to be learned about the potential long-lasting effects of COVID-19, but the good news is that the health care community is working to support people in their recovery long after they leave the hospital,” says Dr. Steve Miller, executive vice president and chief clinical officer, Cigna.
Dr. Miller, a nationally-recognized advocate for greater access, affordability and excellence in health care, is offering the following tips for those grappling with “Long COVID.”
1. Take care of your mental health: It’s no secret that we’re facing a mental health crisis in America that will remain long after COVID-19 restrictions are eased. Last year alone, Cigna’s pharmacy benefit manager saw a nearly 8 percent increase in people using antidepressants. Recovery from COVID-19 can be physically and mentally draining, especially for people whose symptoms persist for many weeks or months. Cigna research shows at least 5 percent of its patients who recovered from COVID-19 developed a mental health disorder in the following months. The good news is that the pandemic has rapidly accelerated the availability and adoption of a range of behavioral health options, making it easier to find a mental health counselor who can help. In fact, 60 percent of Cigna behavioral health customers are now using virtual services – 97 percent of which had previously never had a virtual visit before the pandemic.
2. Take advantage of care managers: Many health plans have expanded access to virtual and telehealth services that can help you avoid additional trips to the clinic or emergency room. Equally important, some health plans offer individualized support in your recovery from a “care manager.” Think of them as a personal health advocate. They will check in to see how you’re feeling, help connect you with needed specialists and follow-up treatments, and will even check in on your family. Hospitalized Cigna customers who had a post-discharge visit with a provider, either in-person or virtually, and engaged with a Cigna care manager, saw savings of almost $2,000 in 60-day post-COVID costs. Care managers also helped people recover and return to work a full week sooner than average.
3. Get vaccinated when you can. Some preliminary reports show that getting the COVID-19 vaccine has helped improve symptoms for long-haulers.
4. Find a “long-hauler” clinic. Researchers are still learning about COVID-19’s long-term impacts, and there are a number of clinics opening across the country focused solely on treating COVID long-haulers. The National Institutes of Health has also dedicated $1.1 billion to the study of “Long COVID,” and Cigna is coordinating closely with them and these clinics to support its customers. Connection is crucial, so also consider seeking out an online long-hauler support network like Survivor Corps.
5. Keep practicing COVID-19 precautions. Everyone is ready to get back to doing the things they love, but none of us are safe until all of us are safe. America is in a race to reach herd immunity before more contagious variants gain momentum. Continue wearing masks, washing your hands and practicing social distancing and encourage family and friends to do the same.
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