Hospital giants launch ad blitz aimed at addressing ‘silent sub-epidemic’ of delayed care

Several prominent hospital systems in California have banded together to launch a campaign aimed at addressing a growing “silent sub-epidemic” of patients delaying important care during the COVID-19 crisis.

They’ve dubbed the initiative as “Better Together Health,” with radio and TV commercials using tag lines such as “Life may be on pause. Your health isn’t,” and “Get care when you need it.” Recent radiology research has highlighted the “scary phenomenon” of patients putting off stroke care, for instance, with a roughly 40% drop in such imaging. Radiation therapy volumes similarly have plummeted, with physician leaders reporting two-thirds fewer patients, largely due to deferrals.

Los Angeles County care providers such as Cedars-Sinai, Dignity Health, Providence, UCLA, USC and Kaiser Permanente have experienced this phenomenon at their own institutions, and executives are attempting to counter it.

“There is concern that patients with serious conditions are putting off critical treatments,” Keck Medicine of USC chief executive Tom Jackiewicz said in a joint statement from all six hospital systems, issued Thursday. “We know that seeking immediate care for heart attacks and strokes can be lifesaving and may minimize long-term effects.”

Those involved opted for partnering, rather than competing, realizing deferred care could become the “next public health crisis.” L.A. area hospital leaders believe it’s their duty to connect with potential constituents and inform them of available specialty physician services, along with primary, emergency and urgent care.

They’re sharing the marketing campaign through numerous channels, running from billboards to newspapers, magazines, digital, and social media. CommonSpirit Health has recently seen “many” who in the past may have dialed 911, but are now staying home until it’s too late.

“We are instead seeing patients that delayed, postponed or canceled care coming to emergency departments with serious conditions that should have been treated far earlier,” said Julie Sprengel, leader of the Southwest Division at the 142-hospital Catholic giant.

On April 29, California Gov. Gavin Newsom issued considerations for resuming elective procedures, with some parts of the state relaunching sooner than others. The American College of Radiology this week noted reports of “few” of these procedures actually occurring in the Golden State since.

Keck Hospital of USC, for one, has maintained outpatient radiology services throughout the pandemic, but leaders are now working to “extend” cardiac and mammography screening services, it announced May 4. The latter service is reportedly suffering a 94% dip during the pandemic in another big city.

Los Angeles-based, 401-bed Keck is also ramping up radiation oncology—a service line where physician leaders have reported significant declines in volume, a nationwide survey concluded this week. About 82% of clinicians polled said delayed or deferred treatment motivated the slowdown, the American Society for Radiation Oncology said Wednesday.