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Primary care and the COVID-19 pandemic

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Primary care physicians are caught between their mission to provide quality healthcare to their patients and sustaining their practice during the extreme challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. Patients are confused and concerned about whether they can see their primary care provider for regular, preventive care. They also need a place to go for testing when they suspect they may be infected with the virus.

Primary care physicians are adjusting, shifting to telehealth, but they and their patients are still uncertain and anxious. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic began, the US was seeing declines in the rate of primary care visits, in the percentage of Americans who had a “usual source of primary care,” and in the level of overall trust in providers.

A number of surveys have been conducted recently to determine how primary care physicians and their patients are responding to the coronavirus restrictions and guidelines. The results of several of those surveys include:

  • A third (34%) of surveyed primary care providers recently reported they have no capacity to test patients for COVID-19 and another third (32%) said they only have limited capacity for testing.
  • Those seeking regular, routine primary care are facing new barriers from stay-at-home orders; nearly 90 percent of primary care providers recently reported they are limiting regular check-ups.
  • Five weeks into the COVID-19 pandemic, 53 percent of primary care clinicians reported they are not receiving — or are unsure if they will receive — payment for the virtual care they are providing and 76 percent said the pandemic was placing severe or close-to-severe strain on their practice.
  • Less than half of recently surveyed primary care providers said they think they have enough patient volume (46%) or enough cash on hand (47%) to stay open for the next month.

Elation Health’s COVID-19 Financial Guide can help you deal with the economic effects of COVID-19.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is encouraging the increased use of telehealth to help ensure the health and safety of both primary care providers and patients.

A survey conducted by the Primary Care Collaborative and The Larry A. Green Center found that:

  • Telehealth capacity is increasing, with 33% of respondents reporting that their practice had no video visits (down from 60% the week before), while half report no e-visits at their practice (down from 70% the week before).
  • More than half (54%) of primary care practices are conducting the majority of their visits by telephone.
  • Nearly a third of respondents work at practices that offer some visits in the parking lot.
  • Only 33% of clinicians say they have enough cash on hand to function for four weeks.  Half answered either “no” (13%) or “unsure” (37%).
  • More than 20% of respondents said their practice may temporarily close, owing to either “clinician or staff illness,” (20% maybe); “lack of PPE/supplies (21% maybe); and “lack of revenue” (16% maybe).

To assist primary care physicians who may need further guidance on continuing to operate during the crisis, the American Medical Association (AMA) has compiled a list of resources, including information on elective procedures, diagnosing patients, Medicare and Medicaid coverage, and protecting the practice and the patients during COVID-19.

Elation Health supports the work of primary care physicians as well, and has launched the COVID-19 Resource Center for independent physicians, providing the latest updates and guidelines and enabling providers to focus on their patients.