Primary care stays strong despite pandemic

Despite the difficulty of the COVID-19 pandemic, primary care has remained resilient and used telehealth to bridge the gap.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has battered the healthcare industry and the Delta variant has stalled economic recovery, primary care continues to be resilient against the increased needs of patients.

According to a news release, a recent survey conducted in August by the Larry A. Green Center and the Primary Care Collaborative (PCC) say their practice has experienced more pressure during the pandemic. Of the respondents, 71 percent say that patient visits are more complex and take more time due to the pandemic. Meanwhile 54 percent say they’re unable to hire staff for open positions and 45 percent say they personally know primary care physicians who retired early or left practice because of the pandemic.

Patient needs are also increasing, with 65 percent of respondents saying they’ve seen an increase in mental health issues among children, 59 percent have fully vaccinated patients getting COVID-19, and 58 percent say they’re unsure how to help their patients with long-haul COVID-19.For 64 percent of respondents, telemedicine was the key to maintaining patient access during the pandemic, the release says.

While the boom in telehealth has proved a godsend in the depths of the pandemic, physicians are concerned that about payment regulations being restored to pre-COVID-19 levels. If the lower payments return, 41 percent of physicians worry their practice will no longer be able to support the service. This would just create another challenge during a pandemic that has seen 67 percent of physicians reporting a moderate or slightly high level of strain on their practice tied COVID-19, according to the release.

“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, co-director of The Larry A. Green Center, says in the 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?”

Primary care physicians are still struggling to combat COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy with 52 percent of respondents saying that it took two to three conversations to change the mind of vaccine-hesitant patients with each conversation taking several minutes. A further 67 percent of respondents say that when it comes to their vaccine-hesitant patients it’s more a gut or political feeling which cannot be changed, the release says.

More than half, 59 percent, of respondents say that they have patients asking for a third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and 34 percent say they have more patients asking to be vaccinated due to fear of the Delta variant. A further 51 percent say their practice has received an adequate supply of vaccines for their patients, but only 31 percent say vaccination patients was common in their practice, according to the release.

“We are calling upon public and private payers to step up to help meet patients’ needs and safeguard the primary care workforce,” Ann Greiner, PCC’s president and CEO, says in the 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.”