Coronavirus: “New normal” poses threat to independent primary care

August 3, 2020

A failure to act both by the government and the private sector has left primary care providers particularly vulnerable.

The latest round of a weekly survey produced by the Primary Care Collaborative and The Larry A. Greene Center paints a grim picture of the future of primary care in America due to the inaction of the public and private sectors.

According to the survey, four out of five surveyed clinicians say that their practice strain is worse now than it was in March, the beginning of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic while 50 percent say they are just getting used to the poor conditions.

This is creating financial hardship for many practices, as one in five respondents reported that they remain uncertain about their viability four weeks out. Also, 20 percent of respondents say they’ve had their salary skipped or deferred over the last four weeks while 24 percent reported recent furloughs or layoffs at their practice, according to the survey.

An additional 10 percent of respondents say they have had employees quit because the work environment is unsafe, while 25 percent have open positions they cannot fill. Compounding this issue, 44 percent of respondents report that their face-to-face patient volume continues to be down 30-50 percent from pre-pandemic levels, the survey says.

The pandemic is also having a negative impact on physicians wellbeing as 26 percent reported experiencing a physically and emotionally damaging work environment due to the unrelenting pressure of constant exposure to serious illness, lack of or overuse of personal protective equipment, as well as physical distancing from patients and colleagues while witnessing COVID-19 related hardship and stress, the survey says.

Another 19 percent of respondents say their practice is critically understaffed while an additional 19 percent have faced a forced financial loss. Meanwhile seven percent of respondents say they are “never feeling any sense of control,” due to the continuously changing regulations, billing requirements, COVID-19 protocols, shifting staffing levels, and the unpredictable funding environment, according to the survey.