Coronavirus: Primary care patient volumes dropped during lockdown, study finds

June 19, 2020

Periodic preventive medicine with established patients also dropped.

Both patient volumes and some forms of care dropped in March and April for primary care physicians, according to a study from healthcare data company Fair Health.

Compared to 2019 data, adult primary care patient volumes dropped 60 percent revenue dropped 47 percent in March, while patient volumes dropped 68 percent and revenues dropped 54 percent in April. Meanwhile pediatric primary care volumes dropped 52 percent and revenues dropped 32 percent in March, while volumes dropped 58 percent and revenue dropped 35 percent in April, according to the study.

The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has depressed patient volumes across the country as health authorities suggested that non-emergency procedures be postponed to cut the risk of infection and to not overburden the health system should a spike in infections should occur.

The study also found that primary care physicians are now performing different services when they do see patients. While office visits lasting 15 or 25 minutes and blood collection are still the top three procedures, periodic preventive medicine for established patients between 40 and 64 years old dropped from fourth to sixth and immunizations and antigen detection dropped to 18th and 38th respectively. Office outpatient visits saw a sharp rise from 27th in January to fourth in April. Similar numbers could also be seen with pediatric primary care.

According to the study, preventive care in both adults and children saw large losses over the studied period. Adult preventive care patient volumes dropped 53 percent in March and by 74 percent in April, while older pediatric preventive care volumes dropped 51 percent in March and by 61 percent in April.

This drop in patients has had a destructive effect on some practices as exhibited in the results from a late-May survey produced by The Larry A. Green Center and the Primary Care Collaborative which found that 19 percent of respondents have temporarily closed their practice while 18 percent reported their practice is permanently closed. An additional 42 percent have had to lay off staff or implement furloughs.