COVID-19: Expert Q&A on treatments, research and more

It’s important to take an active role in your health, but even in times of stress, the best way to do that is by following expert guidance. As the COVID-19 pandemic evolves, uncertainty may tempt people to pursue preventive measures or treatments based on what they’ve heard in the news or from friends.

So WellTuned spoke to two clinical experts at BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee – Dr. Natalie Tate, vice president of pharmacy and Dr. Suzanne Corrington, corporate medical director – to find out what to do instead and what we need to know about treatment.

Here’s what our experts recommend

Fear and worry are common responses to a pandemic, but letting that lead you towards unsafe behavior like taking potentially harmful medications or drugs can have serious risks. Here are 3 things you should do instead.

1. Pause before reacting to what you hear in the news.

Be thoughtful about where you get information – and how you process it. It’s not helpful to skim social media, headlines or articles looking for quick fixes. Look to sources like the CDC or Tennessee Department of Health for reliable updates and recommendations.

2. Talk to your health care provider

You should ask your doctor or pharmacist before taking new medications or supplements you’ve heard about. It’s important to get guidance and advice from an expert who knows your medical history and can explain the potential risks.

3. Use safe, self-care activities or coping skills

Taking care of yourself – physically, mentally and emotionally is always important, especially during a crisis. Consider these tips from BlueCross psychologist Dr. Jill Amos to cope and manage stress and these tips if you’re looking for healthy ideas while working at home.

Here’s what our experts say about COVID-19 treatment and research

It’s normal to be curious about how the medical and pharmacy community reacts when a new illness like COVID-19 surfaces. So here are answers to 3 common questions about this process.

1. There’s still no “approved” treatment for COVID-19. What does the medical community do in this situation?

Dr. Corrington: When a new illness surfaces that puts many patients in critical condition, the medical community starts looking at drugs we already have that may be beneficial to fighting this disease. Going outside the usual evaluation and testing process for treatment is not ideal, but may be carefully considered in a rapidly developing health crisis.

Dr. Tate: This is referred to as off-label use. Meaning, drugs that are already approved for one condition are being prescribed for another use, as long as the provider is comfortable with the unknown risks and side effects. This is not something providers take lightly because there can be real consequences.

2. People are hearing stories about those drugs being used as treatment. Why can’t they be widely-prescribed?

Dr. Corrington: We certainly need to celebrate every life saved in the fight against COVID-19, but these drugs weren’t designed to treat it. These drugs aren’t like taking an over-the-counter medicine at home, people shouldn’t be taking these without talking to their doctor. In an emergency situation, a careful decision may be made to use them as supportive care if the benefit seems to outweigh the risks.

Dr. Tate: There are people who rely on these drugs for their intended use and state officials have asked prescribers to act with their best discretion. Right now, there isn’t enough evidence of effectiveness to support widely prescribing these drugs – and there are known harms of these medications we have to keep in mind.

3. What about vitamins or supplements and other over-the-counter drugs?

Dr. Corrington: Currently the only way to prevent this illness is through social distancing and proper hygiene. There is no evidence that taking any vitamin or supplement can protect you from COVID-19 and taking some supplements when you’re not deficient can be harmful to you.

Dr. Tate: You should always take caution when it comes to self-medicating, even with over-the-counter products, because there may be drug interactions and toxicity levels you’re not aware of that could be unsafe. 

For more information on BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee’s response to COVID-19, visit BCBSTupdates.com.

Ali Whittier

Ali Whittier

Ali joined the BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee corporate communications team in 2014. A native of Iowa, she has a decade of experience in health promotion and community engagement, as well as health care communications. When she’s not at BlueCross, she and her husband Spencer are racing their bikes, spending time outdoors or cooking healthy food and treats in their kitchen.

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BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee members can access wellness-related discounts on fitness products, gym memberships, healthy eating and more through Blue365®. BCBST members can also use tools and resources to help improve health and well-being by logging into BlueAccess and going to the in the Member Wellness Center under the Managing Your Health tab.

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Ali Whittier

Ali joined the BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee corporate communications team in 2014. A native of Iowa, she has a decade of experience in health promotion and community engagement, as well as health care communications. When she’s not at BlueCross, she and her husband Spencer are racing their bikes, spending time outdoors or cooking healthy food and treats in their kitchen.