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Published in Health Care

Telehealth will ‘stick,’ but many questions about vaccine, deployment remain unanswered

BY Sunday, December 20, 2020 06:35pm

In September, Dr. James Grant became chief medical director at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, making the transition during the COVID-19 pandemic that has elevated telehealth to the forefront in the industry. While a COVID-19 vaccine became available a week ago, starting with frontline health care workers and long-term care facilities, the pandemic will drive much of what happens in the health care industry in 2021, according to Grant.

How do you see the public health crisis evolving in 2021?

We’re going to have to see where we are with everything from the vaccine to the continued growth of our COVID rates. I don’t think anyone in the country, from Washington to Los Angeles, knows the impact that the vaccine will have, knows the rates that we’re going to be able to give it to people, knows the potential side effects (and) knows the efficacy. That’s going to be a big unknown. 

Dr. James Grant of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan COURTESY PHOTO

We know that we’re going to give it. We know that there’s going to be frontline workers that are going to be getting it first, but there’s so many unanswered questions that nobody has the answer to. Give us a few months before we see COVID rates dropping. Are there side effects that take people out of work? Are we seeing patients coming in with COVID, but not maybe going into ICUs? There’s all of these unknowns that are going to take a while to get through.

What permanent changes do you think the pandemic will drive in health care?

Telehealth is going to stick. We may see more people masked up before they talk to a patient closely. That may stick. One thing we’re going to see, and it’s a good thing, is a lot more attention to hand hygiene regardless of COVID. Eventually, when we get COVID under control, with better hand hygiene and more masks, we’ll see lower actual flu rates at the end of the year.

Do you see the crisis giving more attention to people taking better care of their own health?

I think so. We’ve already seen people during the pandemic pay a little closer attention to obesity, understanding that we know obese patients and diabetic patients have a poor rate of survival with COVID. That’s been an impetus for people to take better care themselves.

How could the pandemic affect how employers alter employee benefits?

I don’t know that we know necessarily how … it’s going to affect health benefits, but I think what we do know is how it’s going to affect the workplace. We’re going to see more work from home. We’re going to see a little more distancing in the offices. We’re going to see a little more flexibility where people work and what they can do at work, and we’re going to see a whole different office setting. That’s a permanent thing to see happen with COVID. We learned that we don’t necessarily need to be in the office for everything, we don’t have to be in a cubicle working next to somebody, and we don’t have to be in an elevator with 12 other people.

Do you worry about some of the steps people have taken to protect their health waning once the pandemic comes under control?

Probably to some degree, but I don’t think we’re ever going to go back to exactly where we were. I think we’re going to see a little more social distancing (and) I think we’re going to see a little more frequent use of masks. It’s going to be somewhere in the middle to where we were and where we’re going to be, and it may take a few years to get to where we’re going to be.

What worries you as you look ahead to the next year?

The worsening of COVID, a vaccine that doesn’t work (and) a vaccine that has tremendous side effects. What worries me is a population that doesn’t realize the importance of the booster shot with a vaccine.

If we talk again in a year, what do you hope to tell me about 2021?

That we have a healthy community and that we have a Michigan (where people are) taking care of themselves. That we have a Michigan that’s conscious of infectious diseases like COVID, we have a Michigan that’s exercising more, that’s smoking less, and we have a Michigan that’s paying attention to obesity, hypertension and diabetes. We have a Michigan that’s looking toward a bright future.

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