The U.S. Pain Foundation has released the results of a survey of 664 individuals with pain conditions about how COVID-19 has impacted their health. More than three-quarters (77.4%) of respondents indicated they are facing barriers to medical care.
“Individuals with chronic pain are particularly vulnerable right now,” says interim CEO Nicole Hemmenway. “They are at higher risk for serious COVID-19 disease, but they also are dealing with worsening health as a result of appointment cancellations and inconsistent telehealth options.”
Cancellations of in-office appointments, while unavoidable, suggest gaps in care that must be addressed in other ways. One-third (33.7%) of respondents said they rely on appointments that require in-person interaction (such as physical therapy or massage), while 20.5% said they had a surgery or other procedure cancelled as a result of the pandemic.
But while telehealth is possible for many routine visits, a common theme was a lack of clear communication about how it works–and how much it costs. A quarter of respondents (25.3%) said they had not been informed by anyone of their telehealth options. More than half (56.1%) said they did not understand their insurer’s telehealth coverage policies; similarly, 48.0% said they did not understand their provider’s telehealth offerings.
Another concerning finding is that some pain clinics continue to stay open and require in-person appointments. 10.2% of respondents said their clinician refused to fill medications over telehealth, and 13.6% said their appointment can be done over telehealth, but their clinician doesn’t offer it.
“This is problematic given that many people living with chronic pain have comorbidities that put them in a high-risk category,” says Cindy Steinberg, U.S. Pain’s National Director of Policy and Advocacy. “The Drug Enforcement Administration issued an emergency ruling allowing controlled substances to be refilled via telehealth.”
In general, the data suggest not enough is being done to help limit the need to leave home. One-quarter (25.1%) of respondents said despite the special circumstances, their insurer would not cover more than a 30-day supply of medication, and 17.3% said their insurer would not fill a medication early.
Clearly, this data points to ample opportunities for all of us—patient groups, health care providers, insurers, industry stakeholders, and policymakers—to come together to better serve people with pain,” says Hemmenway.
The survey report includes recommendations on steps federal and state officials should take to ensure patients have continued access to care.
Readers of the National Pain Report participated in the survey. We were happy to partner with US Pain to identify and subsequently promote these issues.
To learn about the results and download the full report by clicking here.
U.S. Pain is also running an action campaign to urge policymakers to ensure better access to telehealth. To participate, click here.