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How COVID-19 Is Affecting Primary Care

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many important primary care services like preventative care, chronic care management, and other visits and procedures have been postponed or canceled—both because of mandated holds on elective procedures and patients staying away from doctors’ offices due to fears of getting ill. These services, while non-emergency, serve an important role in helping patients manage their health, preventing unnecessary worsening of chronic conditions, and may even keep them healthy enough to provide an easier recovery if they do contract COVID-19.

Finding ways to continue providing quality care during this unprecedented time can help mitigate both negative patient outcomes and financial challenges for primary care practices and providers.

Record Low Patient Volume Is Causing Financial Uncertainty

Elective visits encompass a wide range of care that should not be considered optional, but rather non-emergent. Initiating cancer care, receiving a kidney transplant and repairing a hernia are all types of elective procedures that COVID-19 has put on hold. These elective visits and services are the lifeblood of outpatient practices across the nation. Without them, these important institutions are at risk. For example, an ongoing poll of primary practices found that 85 percent of respondents reported dramatic decreases in patient volume, 42 percent reported concerns about laying off or furloughing practice members, and fewer than half felt they had enough patient volume or cash reserves to remain open for the next four weeks.

A recent HealthLandscape report estimates that by the end of June, there will be over 58,000 fewer family physicians working in their practices—resulting in over 784,000 total jobs lost. That 42 percent decrease in physicians, nurses, medical assistants, receptionists, billing staff, and other important workers will result in economic damage to clinics and communities and, critically, make it even harder for patients to get the care that they need even after the pandemic has resolved. Seeking new ways to engage with patients can help keep healthcare workers employed and ensure that patients aren’t going without important care.

Taking Advantage of Technology-Enabled Visibility

Technology enables primary care providers to collaborate with emergency departments, hospitals, and public health entities on patients affected by coronavirus. Sharing important information, such as a positive lab test, in real time allows care teams to stay alert to what’s happening to patients under their care. Providers can then monitor patients, provide additional information, and ensure that they receive the follow-up care that’s critical to their recovery.

In addition to caring for patients with a COVID-19 diagnosis, primary care teams can also take advantage of technology to ensure that other patients are receiving the care they need. In response to regulations around in-person visits, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) have expanded access to and reimbursement for telehealth services—even for patients with audio-only devices. CMS is now allowing additional services to be provided via telehealth, and letting providers bill for these visits at the same rate as in-person visits for both new and established patients.

Taking advantage of telehealth and virtual consultations allows care teams to expand the current definition of physician-patient relationships and keep medicine as human as possible. Proactively reaching out to all patients who may be in need of care management services, telehealth visits, and other care during this time will ensure that patients receive consistent care while also preventing empty appointment schedules. By adopting these new approaches to patient care, providers can give patients much-needed support—without risking the health and safety of the healthcare workers trying to help them.

Maggie O’Keefe
Director of Product