Published on Dec 18, 2020

Video Transcript

JOHN WHYTE: Welcome, everyone. I'm Dr. John Whyte, chief medical officer at WebMD, and you're watching "Coronavirus in Context." We've been talking a lot about elderly patients and how they're at greater risk for COVID, as well as some of the issues of loneliness. But we haven't been talking about those persons helping to deliver care and take care of elderly loved ones-- caregivers.

So to help provide some insights as well as provide practical tools for caregivers, I've asked Dr. Vincent Nelson. He is the Vice President of Medical Affairs, and the Interim Chief Medical Officer at the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association. Doctor Nelson, Thanks for joining me.

VINCENT NELSON: Yes, thank you, John. It's a pleasure to be invited to come and speak to you today about such an important topic as caregivers, and the impact of their help on being caregivers.

JOHN WHYTE: I want to start off with some statistics, because you put out a very interesting report, the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, that talks about caregivers experience 26% poorer health compared to the general population. And what's really striking is that 55% of caregivers didn't identify as such prior to the pandemic. Doctor Nelson, what's going on here?

VINCENT NELSON: Absolutely. These are very sobering statistics from our report. The pandemic has driven more of us to be caregivers within our homes and taking care of others outside of our homes due to access to care and just follow-up care that needs to take place. And yes, because of that, frequently, we don't take as good care of ourselves. And that's borne out in the data of which we measure healthiness, or a health index. And strikingly, those persons that have identified themselves as a caregiver are 26%-- on average, 26%-- less healthy.

And if you segment populations based on age or demographics, they're even more striking, the differences in the health of those populations.

JOHN WHYTE: Let's talk about the magnitude, Doctor Nelson. I had mentioned 55% of caregivers previously didn't identify themselves as such. Are you surprised by that magnitude?

VINCENT NELSON: I am, but intuitively. But if you think about what has gone on, we have had a once in a generation or once in 100 years event with the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, and it really has caused a lot of disruption in our daily lives. And we were spending more and more time at home, and are dependent more and more on our social networks.

And so when you think about it in context and how disruptive the pandemic has been to our work lives, it's not surprising that our personal lives and taking care of our significant others is equally impacted, or even more so. And so, when you actually take a time to kind of reflect, I'm not as surprised as I would first be when I heard the statistic.

JOHN WHYTE: And we know that caregivers spend their time taking care of others. They don't take care of themselves, so it's not surprising, the data that shows they often have poorer health outcomes. What do we do about that, though? How do we stop that connection between taking care of others and then not taking care of yourself?

VINCENT NELSON: We both have resources and programs to support caregivers which are a variety in nature that lend support through understanding their situation and making them aware that they cannot forget about themselves when they're taking care of their loved ones. So that's emblematic of what we like to accomplish with our various partners in our local markets, understanding our members and meet them where they are, including understanding their resources or lack thereof and providing either direct support, or steering them towards our partners that have support vehicles for them.

JOHN WHYTE: For caregivers that are listening, what practical tips do you have to help them maximize their own health?

VINCENT NELSON: Well, the first practical advice I would give to all caregivers is to-- don't disengage about your own health. Stay informed, stay up to date on what is appropriate for your age range and for your demographic, whether it's gender, sex, or race. Understand what your co-existing diseases are, or your propensity to have certain ailments or diseases, and to make sure that you engage in the health care system appropriately for your regular checkups, and understand what you have to offer in your community to support upstream factors in terms of maintenance and staying healthy on a daily basis so that you don't have to get to a situation where you're more acutely in a place where you need acute care.

JOHN WHYTE: And then, what's the role of insurers in all of this in helping patients maximize their health, particularly when they're the caregiver?

VINCENT NELSON: Health insurers have an obligation to use there resources that they have with their benefits for their members to make sure that they are getting timely care-- essentially the right care at the right time from the right source of doctors and nurses.

JOHN WHYTE: Well, Doctor Nelson, I want to thank you for taking the time today to help provide some insights into this recent report, which we'll include the link for our viewers so they can access the report, as well as reminding viewers that we have to take care of ourselves as well, even when we're taking care of loved ones. So, thank you for all that you are doing.

VINCENT NELSON: Thank you, John. Thank you for having me, and it was a pleasure.

JOHN WHYTE: And thank you for watching "Coronavirus in Context."