Coronavirus: Physician survey finds patient volumes down, likely to stay down for a year

April 16, 2020

Physicians detail how COVID-19 is hurting their patient volumes and bottom line.

Patient volumes are down for physicians due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic and it is expected they will continue to be down for the next year, according to a new survey from Piper Sandler.

The survey collected responses from 160 physicians evenly distributed across 16 specialties in the four states hit hardest by the pandemic: New York, California, Massachusetts, and Washington. The responses were gathered between March 20 and March 30 and 43 percent of respondents are currently in private practice.

For respondents, patient volumes were down 65 percent in late March and are expected to remain that low by late April. In three months, patient volumes are expected to be down 45 percent, in six months they are expected to be down 24 percent, and still down 12 percent in 12 months, the survey says.

The reason for the dips in patient volume given by the respondents was the guidance urging the cancellation or rescheduling of non-essential visits and elective procedures recommended by the federal government March 17. This recommendation is expected to stay in place until at least the end of April, the survey says.

The survey also looked at telehealth usage and is forecasting a fivefold increase in the coming weeks and months, likely due to similar factors as the decrease in patient volume. Before the pandemic, the average physician respondent would diagnose and treat 10 percent of their patients using telehealth, but now the practice is on the rise and the survey indicates 54 percent of patients will receive care through telemedicine in the near future.

The survey also includes some of the respondents’ answers to open-ended questions on topics like telehealth, staffing, and personal protective equipment (PPE). They paint a picture of practices in crisis, struggling to implement telemedicine options while also quickly running out of PPE faster than they can restock. Some of the quotes include:

  • “No telemedicine options since we work in a rural community”

  • “Implementation of telemedicine with reduced income per patient”

  • “Certainly worried about sustainability of practice with falling revenue – telemedicine revenue helpful but may not be enough”

  • “Cannot always bill for the visit”

  • “50 (percent) of medical assistants are not working”

  • “We will have to cross-cover other specialties as doctors become sick”

  • “Biggest issue is reduction in staff”

  • “Have to fire 80 percent of staff”

  • "Yes, we have almost no PPE! Gloves- only about (two) weeks supply left”

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