You may now just be resurfacing after weathering the first wave of COVID-19. It’s been overwhelming and stressful, to say the least—even traumatic for some.
As we recover, it’s important to begin learning from this pandemic so we can do better for ourselves and our patients, both now and the next time we face a global health crisis.
One immediate takeaway is that we all need to take a closer look at wellness and disease prevention. As Fred N. Pelzman, MD, explains in a recent MedPage Today article: “Over the past several decades we’ve gotten incredibly good at delivering secondary and tertiary and even quaternary care, intervening on late stages of diseases and their complications, the inevitable as well as those that arise through the failure of prevention. The current pandemic has shown us that we would be much better off with a system that was predictive, comprehensive, flexible, nimble, and responsive, rather than one where we are waiting for something to happen and then scrambling to find a solution.”
Pre-existing conditions can be prevented
It’s clear now that those people with pre-existing health conditions are at most risk when it comes to COVID. The CDC includes chronic lung disease, heart conditions, severe obesity, diabetes and liver disease among the pre-existing conditions that contribute to a higher COVID mortality rate.
These conclusions may come at least partially from an early study from China of approximately 44,000 COVID-19 patients. The study found that while overall death rate was approximately 2.3%, that number increases significantly for those with pre-existing conditions, reaching as high as 10.5% for patients with heart disease.
What do many of these diseases have in common? They’re preventable by making positive lifestyle changes.
- It’s estimated that 80% of cardiovascular disease cases, including heart disease and stroke, could be prevented.
- About 90% of type 2 diabetes cases could be prevented.
- Approximately 75% of COPD cases are caused by cigarette smoking—and could be prevented by quitting (or not smoking in the first place).
So, rather than waiting for something like COVID to happen and scrambling to find a solution (like Dr. Pelzman laments), it’s time to work preventatively and focus on wellness. If we could prevent even a small fraction of these diseases, patients would not only be at lower risk for COVID-19 complications—they’d have better health and a better quality of life overall.
Focus on exercise and nutrition
Exercise and nutrition may play the most obvious roles in preventing pre-existing conditions like heart disease, diabetes, etc. We all know that regular exercise can help to keep us healthy and prevent disease, but some medical professionals now speculate that staying active can also reduce the risk of COVID complications.
Dr. Wes Smith, the Chair of the Undergraduate Exercise Physiology Program and the Director of the Graduate Program in Nutrition and Human Performance at the University of Miami, explains in a recent article, “Exercise produces an enzyme that can defend the lungs from inflammation-induced oxidative stress, which may be the major cause of COVID-19 mortality. This is great news for people exercising daily, since this may help maintain high levels of antioxidant protection in the lungs, kidneys, and other major organs.”
Nutrition and metabolic health have also been recently and directly related to COVID outcomes.
Physicians from the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine and the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University examined the COVID patients that were able to recover at home versus those that needed hospitalization. One of the major factors was metabolic health. They explain, “Only about 12 percent of Americans are metabolically healthy, without a large waist, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, or high cholesterol. The major driver of poor metabolic health, which increases the risk of hospitalization and death from COVID-19, is the nation’s diet.”
The SENS Solution: Improving Sleep, Exercise, Nutrition and Stress Management
As Dr. Pelzman writes in MedPage Today, the prevention our country needs for a second wave of COVID-19, a future pandemic, and beyond will require, “…having a well-paid and incredibly deep primary care workforce, full of people asking our patients all the right questions, getting to know them, learning their unique needs, probing for disease and other concerns, updating their healthcare maintenance, keeping them vaccinated, and exploring their challenges with access to healthy food, exercise, and safe home environments.”
That personalized, preventative care and deep relationship between physician and patient is what concierge medicine is all about—and at CCPHP, we have a particular focus on wellness. Our SENS Solution® Wellness program provides all of our doctors and their members with ongoing wellness support in the areas of sleep, exercise, nutrition and stress management and offers personalized health coaching to help our Members meet their individual health goals.
Wellness programs and health coaching programs like this have proven significant results. One study shows that in 6 months or less, 89% of participants met at least one health coaching goal. Significant improvements occurred in stress levels, healthy eating, exercise levels, and physical and emotional health.
In combination with a smaller patient panel, these wellness and coaching programs give physicians in CCPHP membership-based practices both the time and health coaching support to better protect their patients from chronic diseases—which in turn helps to improve their resilience against new infectious diseases.
The time is now.
Whether we’re still in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic or we’re emerging from the other side, it’s time to start improving our overall health and wellbeing. Now, more than ever, is the time for all to be taking care of themselves by focusing on preventative care.
You and your patients can not only prevent complications from infectious diseases like COVID, but also prevent many other insidious diseases facing our populations and reducing our quality of life. Everyone can make measurable progress by improving habits surrounding sleep, exercise, nutrition and stress management —and a personalized health coaching program can help everyone stay accountable.