COVID-19 Shines a Spotlight on the Age-Old Problem of Social Isolation

Karen Harden, DNP, AOCNS; Deborah M. Price, DNP; Heidi Mason, DNP, ACNP-BC; April Bigelow, PhD, AGPCNP-BC, ACHPN


Journal of Hospice and Palliative Nursing. 2020;22(6):435-441. 

In This Article


The current medical and social restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic pose challenges to patients, families, and providers. The risk of social isolation and poor health outcomes have become driving factors to stimulate providers in becoming creative with methods of patient interaction. Being aware of the impact of social isolation, as well as recognizing symptoms of isolation or loneliness, can help mitigate risk and allow for early intervention. Discussion of available social support, current social engagement, and environmental stimuli at every interaction facilitates the provider's ability to monitor for subtle changes over time. Unfortunately, the current International Classification of Diseases, Tenth Revision code for social exclusion and rejection does not truly encompass the current climate. The above strategies and proposed changes to health care take considerable time and should be billable to support the effort of the providers and teams for the sake of improved care. As the pandemic continues to unfold and evolve, providers should aim to regularly assess patient risk of isolation and be proactive in preventing negative effects. This can be accomplished by offering access to virtual and socially distanced services as appropriate and available. Additionally, what is learned from health care providers' experiences with palliative care during a pandemic can be incorporated into daily practice as social isolation and loneliness are long-standing challenges for the elderly population.