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Small primary care practices are disproportionately struggling with COVID-19

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It’s been roughly five weeks since our country’s COVID-19 crisis started in earnest. In that time, we’ve seen bad news (and some good) for our network of independent primary care practices. This week, we’re looking closely at which practices are hurting and which are adjusting.

Our data shows that 1-2 prescriber practices are very much in crisis, with a 30 percent drop in charted patient visits that has stabilized but not rebounded. Practices of less than 11 prescribers are showing signs of recovery as they switch to virtual care.

Small primary care practices are 78% of Elation Health’s network, and they care for millions of patients in the US. They are a critical backbone of our healthcare system, providing the most cost-effective care, with the best outcomes, to the most vulnerable patients.

These are the docs our high-risk communities need during COVID-19 per AAFP. “MDs were more likely to be practicing in small or solo practices if they were African American or Hispanic, had been working for more than 30 years, and worked in rural areas.”
We need these primary care practices more than ever, too, with both the demand for keeping our chronically ill out of the hospital and the work of contact tracing and care for those infected.

As axios reported, COVID-19 is putting independent practices in a perilous position where selling out might be their only alternative to closing. Bad news for healthcare costs because “prices soar when physician practices are acquired.”

Advocacy group PCPCC surveyed practices and found that “20% of primary care practices now believe they will temporarily close within the next month.”

The grant and loan funding we saw last week did help. For lasting survival, these small practices need a lot of support on the switch to telemedicine and proactive, virtual care for their patients with chronic illness.

As Bob J. Herman reported SBA loans were “an administrative nightmare for many doctors who applied” and that is just one of dozens of relief programs, each with its own exhausting process.

Our team at Elation is actively seeking new ways to help take on this work for our independent primary care medical practices. From telemedicine to education, to grant programs, to sharing data like this, we are doing everything we can.