422: Loneliness Report, In-Person or Telemedicine Care

Dr. Kerstin Emerson, Clinical Associate Professor at the University of Georgia College of Public Health, examines a new report on loneliness from Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy; Ericka McGowan, ASTHO Senior Director of Emerging Infectious Disease,...

Dr. Kerstin Emerson, Clinical Associate Professor at the University of Georgia College of Public Health, examines a new report on loneliness from Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy; Ericka McGowan, ASTHO Senior Director of Emerging Infectious Disease, tells us providers and patients prefer in-person care over telemedicine appointments; there’s still time to get an online ticket to ASTHO’s TechXpo set to begin May 23rd; and ASTHO has a blog about the benefits of community design.


New Surgeon General Advisory Raises Alarm about the Devastating Impact of the Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation in the United States

Video Telemedicine Experiences In COVID-19 Were Positive, But Physicians And Patients Prefer In-Person Care For The Future

Public Health TechXpo and Futures Forum

Accessible Community Design to Support Physical Activity and Outdoor Recreation for People of All Ages and Abilities


ASTHO logo



This is Public Health Review Morning Edition for Wednesday, May 17, 2023. I'm Robert Johnson.

Now, today's news from the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.



Loneliness has been an issue well before the pandemic, but the pandemic did exacerbate it.


Dr. Kerstin Emerson is in the University of Georgia College of Public Health. She says a new report from Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy on loneliness and isolation will help drive a national conversation about a problem that often goes unnoticed.


You'll see the numbers and statistics and that's important, but you also see the real human side of this topic. And having Dr. Murthy admit that he was lonely, a man who I would assume has a whole lot of phone calls and Zoom calls and people around him, who still struggled with it--I thought it was really important and kind of an incredibly cool thing to see.


Previous surgeon generals have been among the first to sound a national alarm on so many public health concerns. Emerson says this report continues that trend.


I think it's incredibly important. And this is part of why I like the way that Dr. Murthy approached this report--which I think is quite different than other reports--where he starts with this very personal story about his own experience and then he also leads to very practical solutions.

So I think having a surgeon general report is incredibly important because it gets that national focus, rather than taking it from individuals or communities, which is what's been happening in the last few decades. It's taking it to the national policy level, and that's important.


Emerson appreciates that the document provides different levels of interventions ready to be applied as needed.


There's different levels of interventions that can happen, from all the way from the top policies--what can we do to encourage communities--but also smaller level things, like how can communities make sure the infrastructure is there for engagement? Are the sidewalks safe? Are the parks open and available? Do people have transportation to get to community centers? Are there community centers? Do workplaces know that this is actually an issue? Are we educating public health folks? Are we educating social workers, physicians, frontline workers about this being part of that holistic care that we talked about, loneliness and social connections should be one of those things?


The report calls loneliness and isolation an epidemic. Emerson says the problem needs a national campaign.


So the United Kingdom, for instance, has an entire national campaign to end loneliness. And I feel like this report is very much setting the scene for that coming up next, and that is what I would absolutely help to happen is having it be a national campaign to address it.


You can read the Surgeon General's report using the link in the show notes.


A new survey reveals that most providers and patients still prefer in-person care over telemedicine, even though the technology remains an option, especially during emergencies.

ASTHO's Ericka McGowan is one of the authors of an article in Health Affairs that examines the survey findings.


This study really was able to survey primary care physicians and patients to examine the overall perceptions of video-based telemedicine and its value during the COVID-19 pandemic. Unlike other studies that were conducted during this time, our study really focused on the quality of video telemedicine visits in comparison to in-person visits.


McGowan says most everyone questioned said they were satisfied with video visits during the pandemic.


However, 80% of physicians would prefer to provide only a small share of care or no care via telemedicine in the future, and only 36% of patients will prefer to seek care by video or phone. The most common reason for that was like a perceived lower quality of video care, and it was really around challenges with conducting a physical exam.


Despite the obvious challenges to an online doctor's office visit, telemedicine, according to McGowan, was there when people needed it.


You know, there's different things that work for different people at different times. And you know what, in a study, we really were able to find that in an emerging situation are these large infectious disease outbreaks, that this is a tool that certainly can be used. But it's not necessarily appropriate for everything. So, while it's definitely an important tool, the majority of care in-person is still the preferred method.


ASTHO partnered on the survey with the CDC, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and the National Public Health Information Coalition. You can read more using the link in the show notes.


Also today, ASTHO's TechXpo begins next Tuesday, May 23, in Chicago and online. The good news is you can still get an online ticket. It'll give you access to many of the panels and a bonus event planned in June. Learn where technology is taking public health and how to apply it in your work. Sign up using the link in the show notes.


Finally this morning, jurisdictions can design parks, trails, and other public spaces to encourage healthier habits among people in their communities. ASTHO has a blog about the benefits of community design. Read it using the link in the show notes.


That'll do it for today's newscast. We're back tomorrow morning with more ASTHO news and information.

I'm Robert Johnson. You're listening to Public Health Review Morning Edition. Have a great day.


Kerstin Emerson PhD

Clinical Associate Professor, Director of Online Learning, University of Georgia College of Public Health

Ericka McGowan MS

Senior Director, Emerging Infectious Disease, ASTHO