Survey suggests patient health is declining amid COVID-19 pandemic
More than half of primary care clinicians have indicated that their patients’ health is worsening during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, according to a survey conducted by the Larry A. Green Center and the Primary Care Collaborative.
“As COVID-19 cases again rise, the health of our primary care patients is worse than at the start of the first wave,” Ann Greiner, president and CEO of the Primary Care Collaborative, told Healio Primary Care. “Specifically, more than half of survey respondents — 56% — report that patient health is worse from delayed/inaccessible care and 85% report worse mental health among patients.”
The survey included 582 primary care clinicians from 47 states in the United States and Guam.
Among respondents, 31% also reported that they saw an increase in patients with addictions.
Additionally, 60% of primary care clinicians reported that their communities were experiencing a rise in COVID-19 cases. Meanwhile, 27% reported that their practices have permanently lost members who left their positions, retired early or were sick, and 35% reported that they had open staff positions they could not fill.
Participants also said their ability to work with students has been affected by the pandemic; 80% reported that their ability to teach was affected and 27% reported that they delayed or canceled plans to work with students.
The survey also found that there were still disruptions in the supply chain due to the pandemic. Among primary care clinicians, 10% reported that they had no influenza vaccines and 23% mentioned an increased demand for the influenza vaccine.
Essentials for the COVID-19 pandemic are also still lacking; 14% of participants said they still lacked appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) and 23% said that low amounts of PPE or having to reuse these items made them feel unsafe. Additionally, 26% of clinicians said that they still had inadequate access to COVID-19 tests and 44% said that while they can order tests, it takes more than 2 days to receive the results.
More than one-third of clinicians (34%) reported that they had patients who would not take a COVID-19 vaccine if available because of distrust of the vaccine.
The researchers found that telehealth has remained an important tool to address patient needs. Among participating primary care clinicians, 64% reported that telehealth is important to their ability to see patients: 38% used video visits and 35% used phone visits for at least a fifth of their patients.
According to the researchers, 69% of clinicians reported using telehealth to manage patients’ chronic conditions and 61% used it for visits related to mental health.
Telehealth also allowed physicians to help keep the number of patients in their office down; 60% used these services to screen patients before visits.
“Primary care is essential to addressing this next voracious COVID-19 wave: triaging and managing patients so they do not end up in the ER, educating them about the virus in their community and combating rising misinformation, and helping those with existing medical and mental health challenges manage their conditions,” Greiner said.