Survey shows primary care physicians not ready for next COVID-19 surge

July 9, 2020
Keith A. Reynolds

More than a third of respondents say they are not ready.

More than one third of primary care physicians in the U.S. are not ready for another wave of COVID-19, according to a survey.

The survey is the 15th part of a series by The Larry A. Green Center, the Primary Care Collaborative, and 3rd Conversation aimed at gauging how the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has impacted primary care physicians. It found that more than 30 percent of respondents say that their practices feel unready or spent from the demands of the pandemic, while more than 40 percent say they are not ready for another wave of the disease.

Personal protective equipment (PPE) shortages continue to plague practices as 45 percent of respondents report that they are out of PPE, while 61 percent report that they are reusing it, according to the survey.

“While new federal, state and health plan virtual health policies have helped primary care, these turn out to be necessary, but not sufficient support,” Ann Greiner, president and CEO of the Primary Care Collaborative, says in a news release. “These policies should absolutely not sunset. Plus, more financial support from the Provider Relief Fund is needed as is testing and PPE. You can draw a straight line between lack of primary care support and bad patient outcomes, particularly for patients of color.”

Cash is also a factor in practice distress as less than 50 percent of respondents report they have enough cash on hand to stay open and one third say they have laid off or furloughed staff within the past four weeks. Compounding this issue, 53 percent of respondents say their patients are not scheduling well visits or chronic care visits despite their availability in the practice, the survey says.

Adding to primary care physicians’ stress, about 70 percent of respondents say they are not ready for reduced or terminated payment for audio and video visits which the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) will terminate when the national emergency is declared over unless Congress intervenes, the survey says.

“Primary care is holding on by a thread as our country faces a surge in COVID-19 cases,” Christine Bechtel, patient advocate and co-founder of 3rd Conversation, says in the release. “Anyone – whether a policy maker, an insurer or patient – should be totally alarmed. This surge is a preview of what’s to come during the impending second wave, and this data tells us that we are in deep trouble. I don’t know how much longer we can shout at the wind, but I’ll say it again -- health care is only going to get more expensive and less available from here on out, unless policy makers and insurers act fast to prevent even larger economic and health catastrophes resulting from the imminent collapse of primary care.”