Find out more from Dr Leena Johns and Dr Neil Gordon

We don’t need to be the ones to tell you that COVID-19 has been a huge focus for the entire world this year. It has impacted so many aspects of our lives. As well as the millions of people who have caught COVID-19, we have seen a dramatic rise in the number of people suffering mental health issues as well as a significant increase in substance abuse. 

What may be less talked about is the impact the pandemic had on people with existing chronic diseases. COVID-19 has presented a double threat for this group. Not only does evidence suggest that they are at greater risk of severe complications and even death, but the crisis has meant, in many cases, being unable to receive the necessary care to prevent these diseases progressing.

And, given the costs of chronic diseases for multinationals – on healthcare spending, absenteeism and lost productivity – it’s something employers really need to think about.

In our workshop at the ‘Commercial Risk Europe (CRE) Employee Benefits Risk Management’ conference, Dr Leena Johns, Head of Health & Wellness at MAXIS GBN and Dr Neil Gordon, CEO and founder of INTERVENT International, explored the impact of the global pandemic on chronic disease and mental health. 

They shared their insights on:

  • disruptions to prevention and screening – people with diabetes or high blood pressure, and those who need regular lab tests haven’t been receiving their usual care 
  • delays in diagnosis and treatment of cancer patients – nearly one in four cancer patients reported delays in their care because of the pandemic
  • the rise in musculoskeletal complaints – potentially due to home-working and not having suitable office equipment
  • the long-term financial effects of job loss and the impact this can have on both physical and mental health.  

Diabetes – how were people affected?   

One particular chronic disease the pair looked at in-depth was diabetes. Without constant management, diabetes can lead to severe complications including strokes, heart damage and nerve disease. 

A healthy lifestyle is vital for diabetics and the pandemic, which has led to an increase in sedentary lifestyles and social isolation and has made it much harder for many to lead a healthy life. Dr Johns revealed the shocking statistic that the number of deaths due to type 1 diabetes has increased to three times higher than before the pandemic, and for type 2 diabetes, the number of deaths has doubled. This, of course, is an area of real concern and we need to put this at the forefront of our thinking when we consider employee health and wellness.

Who’s impacted by chronic disease?

If you’re thinking chronic diseases only affect the older generation, then think again. Our own research and data at MAXIS shows that chronic diseases do in fact start to show up in younger generations, particularly in the 31-40-year-old bracket. 

So, if you are an employer with a high proportion of millennials or younger workers, it could be beneficial to start looking into your employee wellness programmes and educating employees on how to remain healthy and avoid chronic conditions now. You may avoid some problems later on.

What solutions are out there?

With healthcare delivery disrupted globally and many people working remotely or self-isolating, it’s now more important than ever to find digital global wellness solutions that can provide your employees with efficient healthcare access. Telemedicine services, data-driven chronic disease management, employee assistant programmes (EAP) and musculoskeletal online services are just some of the tools available to multinationals to help provide timely and efficient care for their employees.

Dr Gordon shared his experience of these solutions and talked about what INTERVENT does to help their clients' employees manage chronic conditions. Regular telehealth interactions with a personal health coach, digital education modules and health tracking, help to develop new habits and encourage long-lasting behaviours. Proactive management such as this can result in more effective management of chronic conditions. And that’s good for everybody.

There is no doubt the pandemic has changed the way we live and work and will probably continue to do so for some yet, if not forever. We need to look to the future and start thinking about how we look after ourselves and our employees in a post-COVID-19 era.

Key takeaways from the workshop and actions we can take

  • Refocus on chronic disease management and think carefully about the impacts of COVID-19 on this area.
  • Identify and triage individual employees giving them access to appropriate chronic disease prevention and management interventions, helping them make and stick to meaningful lifestyle changes and adopt long-term healthy behaviours.
  • Review and potentially change the way we consider our wellness eco-systems.
  • Learn to think about wellbeing, emotional, health, and family support as far more than “benefits”.
  • Understand that continuity of care of people is now more important than ever before.
  • Take a long-term approach to wellness and prioritise the digital delivery of healthcare.