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How Digital Health Tools Can Reduce the Risk of COVID-19 Complications Through Chronic Disease Prevention and Management

July 14, 2020 / Employee Wellbeing Best Practices

Written By: Misa Nuccio, MPH

We’ve all heard it and felt it throughout the last few months—COVID-19 has completely turned our world upside down, yet we’re not done feeling the effect of and learning from these dramatic changes. Out of the sudden, sweeping changes we’ve faced in our day-to-day lives and the fear and loss of loved ones we’ve endured, the novel coronavirus has opened our eyes to the importance of actively maintaining personal health.

Coronavirus has put a spotlight on our healthcare system and on our past choices of prioritization. We anxiously consumed media coverage on the spread of the virus, the national shortages of basic protective medical equipment and the trajectories for a scarcity of hospital beds. We isolated from family and friends to mitigate the spread. Throughout all this, we have seen our heroic healthcare workers run straight into the fire instead of away from it, and we have seen organizations – big and small – quickly adapt to this new reality, doing everything possible to continue to meet the needs of the people they serve. And as we prepare to face the future of COVID-19, employers are recognizing the need to protect both the immediate and long-term health and safety of their workforce.

We are optimists here at Virgin Pulse. We believe that our healthcare system, workforces and individuals will emerge stronger, but change must begin now. Rather than wait to see what a post-pandemic world will look like, we are taking what the research and data has taught us about this virus and are innovating around it.

We must first protect our most vulnerable by focusing on basic chronic disease prevention. The onset of many chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and obesity can be prevented or delayed by engaging in lifestyle behaviors like weight management, physical activity and a healthy diet. Of the chronic diseases that leave an individual at high-risk with COVID-19, obesity (which affects one-third of American adults) is perhaps the most far-reaching, and it is proving to be one of the most important predictors of severe coronavirus illness and increased likelihood of mortality. People with obesity frequently have other chronic medical problems like heart disease and diabetes, which both independently put patients in a higher risk status than their condition-free peers. Obesity also correlates with higher rates of anxiety and depression – yet another key risk factor in overall health through this season of social distancing and isolation.

Conditions like obesity, heart disease and diabetes don’t happen overnight. Neither does behavior change. Effectively addressing and managing these chronic conditions takes small, daily healthy habits to create long-term outcomes. Behavior science tells us that the easiest way to change habits is to reduce friction, incentivize engagement and provide frequent prompts. Simply put, the road to health must be easy-to-use, accessible, motivating and supportive.

In addition to an increased focus on disease prevention, the future of and beyond COVID-19 will demand more sophisticated, flexible and accessible technology tools that work for everyone. The true value of digital health solutions has never been more important.

COVID-19 has fast-tracked the advancement of telehealth and digital therapeutics, and the popularity of these programs will only continue to grow. Virgin Pulse has been at the forefront of the digital therapeutic revolution, with new and upcoming offerings like VP Transform for Prediabetes, VP Transform for Weight Management and VP Transform for High Blood Pressure that provide tailored condition prevention and management to support and empower individuals to take an active role in their health when they otherwise would not take lifesaving preventive health measures. We are improving clinical and health outcomes for users while simultaneously decreasing the financial burden of paying for the treatment of Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and other health conditions related to weight, physical activity, and diet. Furthermore, improved health and financial outcomes result in improvements in business outcomes for our clients, like reduced absenteeism, presenteeism, and improving workplace morale and work-life balance.

COVID-19 has shown us that personal health is directly tied to personal safety, and now is the time to take action for a healthier, safer future. In order to be successful in creating lasting behaviors, we must take a proactive, tailored, whole-person approach to health, while recognizing the individual facilitators and barriers to behavior change, like social determinants of health, to overcome the environmental, social and emotional factors that have prevented individuals from forming healthy habits in the past.

Humans are resilient and we will bounce back from COVID-19. But we believe that our bounce back will be more like a bounce forward, leaping into a world where our healthcare system prioritizes infrastructure to support remote care, digital access and prevention services. Virgin Pulse is prepared to lead our clients and members in this new era and to successfully navigate what lies ahead together.


About The Author

Misa Nuccio, MPH, is the Senior Product Marketing Manager at Virgin Pulse. She designed and directed VP Transform for Prediabetes, an evidence-based digital diabetes prevention program that combines health coaching with technology to facilitate behavior change.

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