The COVID-19 pandemic has affected many independent healthcare providers across the country. Orders to stay at home and safety concerns around in-person visits have changed the environment of healthcare delivery. Many independent physicians are moving toward telehealth visits. The demand for the direct care model of healthcare delivery has actually grown since the start of the pandemic.
The direct care model has long encompassed many of the aspects of healthcare that traditional primary care providers are now embracing. Communication outside the office visit is one of the more important features of a direct care practice. In addition, the financial model of direct care, based on membership fees rather than per-visit fees, has enabled those providers to maintain their stability throughout the pandemic.
A survey conducted by the Primary Care Collaborative in late August found that healthcare providers are seeing more stress in their patients as well as experiencing it themselves. Patients are experiencing:
- Higher levels of mental health concerns (86%)
- More sleep issues (77%)
- Weight gain (73%)
- More involvement in providing mental health support to others (70%)
- A struggle to pay bills (58%).
More than half the healthcare providers participating in the survey said their levels of strain changes and pressures in their practice from COVID-19 were at either a 4 or 5 (out of 5) in the previous four weeks. The most-cited pressures are, by far:
- Clinicians/staff out due to illness or self-quarantine (47%)
- Lack of staffing, making it harder to meet patient needs (46%)
- In-person patient visits 30-50% lower than pre-pandemic levels (46%).
Most do say they are planning to stay in healthcare, even if their practice suffers financially during the pandemic. Just under half are receiving financial support from federal programs such as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and from the Small Business Administration (SBA).
Elation Health has developed a COVID-19 Financial Guide, to help ensure your success in dealing with the economic effects of COVID-19. Check it out here.
In contrast, direct care physicians are riding out the pandemic storm better than most physicians practicing in traditional models. Direct care practices do not typically accept insurance payments, including Medicare, so providing healthcare services via telehealth is not dependent on being reimbursed from a third party.
Direct care has grown significantly over the past decade and demand for direct care practices continues to grow throughout the coronavirus outbreak. Patients enjoy the personal relationship they are able to build with their physician, which is particularly important during the challenging times of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In fact, direct care providers have greater flexibility to provide care with even just a simple phone call when appropriate, without worrying about whether they will be reimbursed for the virtual visit. Many direct care physicians have been conducting telehealth for several years. They are already set up to conduct virtual office visits through telephone and video consults, as well as through email communications and text messages. The direct practice’s web-based video consults capability is often embedded into their electronic health systems.
Given the mental health challenges of the pandemic, when many people have lost their jobs or are dealing with the isolation involved in staying at home for long periods of time, some direct care practices are starting to incorporate virtual psychology services as well. The direct care physician’s ability to provide remote holistic care increases their patients’ confidence that they will be able to stay safe when they need medical services and increases the physician’s ability to continue to provide quality healthcare.