Telehealth provides short-term benefits, but PCPs express concern for long-term damage
Nearly two-thirds of clinicians reported relying on telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic to maintain patients’ access to care, according to survey findings from the Larry A. Green Center and the Primary Care Collaborative.
However, clinicians also reported concerns about the continued widespread use of telehealth: 41% of responding clinicians worried that their practice would not be able to support telehealth going forward and 21% said they had to cut back on telehealth use since payments were reduced.
“With no cash infusion and without regard to future payment concerns, primary care tended to the health needs of the nation during the pandemic and continues to do so,” Rebecca Etz, PhD, codirector of the Larry A. Green Center, said in a press release. “Despite poor resources, a shrinking workforce and the growing complexity of health burdens of patients, primary care expanded its services to provide the safety net so many were lacking. When will this nation — and its leaders — wake up to the fact that primary care is key to getting us out of this prolonged pandemic?”
Overall, 1,263 clinicians in 49 states, Washington, D.C. and two U.S. territories responded to the survey between Aug. 13 and Aug. 16. Among them, 72% of respondents worked in family medicine, 13% in internal medicine, 5% in pediatrics, 3% in geriatrics and 7% in another specialty. Also, a majority of respondents worked in a community health center (26%) and a system-owned facility (43%).
Telehealth and the primary care workforce
Clinicians reported that the needs of patients during the pandemic exceeded pre-pandemic levels. In fact, 71% of clinicians said that patient visits were more complex and time-consuming. Meanwhile, 54% were unable to hire staff for open positions in their practice and 45% said they knew colleagues in primary care who had retired early or left their practice due to the pandemic. According to previous research, the U.S. will be short of about 20,000 to 50,000 primary care physicians by 2034.
The survey further showed that 40% of clinicians reported using telehealth for at least one in five office visits. Also, 35% developed new roles in their practice to meet their telehealth needs. Yet, 25% of clinicians were concerned that primary care will become weakened by telehealth in the future whilst the specialty is currently “crumbling,” according to the survey results. Overall, 52% of clinicians rated their pandemic-related strain as severe or near severe and less than 30% described their practices as financially healthy.
On the COVID-19 vaccine front, 59% of clinicians had patients who have asked for a third vaccine booster. Also, 34% of clinicians had patients who asked about the vaccine due to fears of the delta variant and 51% reported receiving an adequate supply of vaccines for their patients, yet only 31% said that vaccinating patients was common in their practice. To convince vaccine-hesitant patients to get a COVID-19 vaccine, 52% of clinicians described needing two to three conversations with the patient to change their mind, but 67% believed that most patients’ opinions on vaccines cannot be changed. Also, 57% of clinicians reported having more difficulty convincing newer patients to get the vaccine.
“We are calling upon public and private payers to step up to help meet patients’ needs and safeguard the primary care workforce,” Ann Greiner, president and CEO of the Primary Care Collaborative, said in the press release. “Left with the most difficult-to-vaccinate portion of the population, primary care clinicians must be adequately supported for the multiple conversations that are needed to counter vaccine hesitancy and help meet our country’s vaccine goals.”
A resilient primary care supported patients during summer surge of COVID. https://www.pcpcc.org/2021/10/11/resilient-primary-care-supported-patients-during-summer-surge-covid?language=en. Published Oct. 11, 2021. Accessed Oct. 11, 2021.