While many people are avoiding hospitals right now due to concerns over COVID-19, it’s still critical that people get the needed care. A recent Cigna study found that pediatric hospitalizations for six conditions decreased 31% between March and April of this year, drawing concerns that parents may be deferring needed care for their children due to fear of COVID-19 exposure (Figure 1).

This study, the first of its kind, looked at six different conditions: acute appendicitis, diabetes, sickle cell, feeding difficulties/failure to thrive, epilepsy and seizure, and asthma. These conditions were selected because they generally require immediate attention.

“The statistics are very alarming, and the reductions are far-ranging from 9% for hospitalizations for appendicitis to over 60% for patients with asthma,” said Saif Rathore, MD PhD, the study’s lead author and Cigna’s Head of Data and Analytics innovation (Table 1).

Glen Stettin, MD, Cigna’s Chief Innovation Officer notes that “the call to parents is clear: don’t delay care when your child is suffering because the implications can be long-lasting and life-threatening.”

Alternatives to face-to-face visits have become available, such as telehealth, though some care must be done in person. But how can parents be more confident when they take their child to healthcare settings – whether their provider’s office, urgent care or emergency room setting? Here are a few tips to be better prepared and remain safe during the pandemic:

Assess the situation: Is this an evaluation that can be done through a virtual visit? Since the start of the pandemic, providers are increasingly relying on technology to help assess and diagnosis over the phone or through video examination. If your child has a chronic condition and due for an evaluation this may still be an option, but not always.

Call ahead: If a virtual visit is not possible and you need to go to the doctor’s office or other healthcare setting, call ahead to understand their protocol and ask what safety precautions they are taking to reduce COVID-19 exposure. Depending on symptoms, you might be re-directed at this step to the most appropriate place for care.

Bring your own Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for you and your child: Some offices might have child-size face masks, but be prepared. There are many options available for purchase online as well as videos on how to make your own. Make sure you have hand sanitizer too. Face shields, goggles and even glasses further reduce risk of exposure when worn with a mask.

Prepare your child: If you do plan on going to a care facility, talk to your child and let them know what to expect. PPE might be scary for younger children so assuring them ahead of the visit that the doctor’s office is a safe place to be could help. More tips for talking with children can be found here.

“Keeping kids healthy is always a priority but COVID-19 has made parents wary, and rightfully so, of placing themselves and their children at risk to exposure in healthcare settings during routine care such as annual well visits and chronic care checks, but it’s critical that parents and doctors work together to keep care plans on track” said Dr. Mark Netoskie, pediatrician and Cigna Medical Director for South Texas and Louisiana. “This is particularly important for young children who are still receiving vaccinations, children that have chronic conditions that may not be stable and for those with symptoms that may be worsening, despite symptomatic care. Parents should always feel comfortable asking their doctors for advice.”

For additional information and resources about Cigna's response to COVID-19, visit our Coronavirus (COVID-19) Resource Center.

Figure 1. Acute care hospitalization rate for March and April 2020 compared to March and April 2019

corona-virus-info-graph

Data presented as monthly hospitalization rate per 100,000 Cigna commercial customers for months of March and April in 2019 and 2020. Dotted lines indicate trends over period.

Table 1. Hospitalization rates for selected clinical conditions

 

March and April 2019

March and April 2020

% reduction 2020 to 2019

Overall

137.1

95.5

30.8

Selected conditions

 

 

 

Acute appendicitis

2.5

2.1

17.2

Diabetes

2.0

1.6

23.2

Sickle cell

0.9

0.6

35.5

Feeding difficulties, failure to thrive

1.0

0.6

37.2

Epilepsy and seizure

3.2

1.7

47.8

Asthma

3.4

1.1

68.7

Data presented as monthly rate per 100,000 Cigna commercial customers, normalized to enrollment as of March 2019 and March 2020 respectively.

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