COVID-19: Practices falling short of pre-pandemic levels

October 2, 2020

Primary care has yet to regain the strength it had before the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a study released recently by the Larry A. Green Center, a research organization, in collaboration with the Primary Care Collaborative.

Primary care has yet to regain the strength it had before the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, according to a study released recently by the Larry A. Green Center, a research organization, in collaboration with the Primary Care Collaborative (PCC).

The findings of the survey come as schools are re-opening, which could increase the spread of the coronavirus as the nation faces a potential resurgence of the virus during the upcoming winter flu season.

In a news release, the center noted that while the state of health care has improved modestly in the past several weeks, the survey, conducted Sept. 4-8, found that primary care remains in significant need of support. Moreover, ophthalmology practices are encounting the same struggles.

According to the survey, 35% of respondents indicated that revenue and pay are still significantly lower than pre-pandemic levels and net losses threaten current and future viability.

Another third of respondents said the financial picture has been slowly improving, but the workforce is fragile and in trouble.

And 1 in 5 practices reports they have clinicians who have chosen early retirement or left their jobs as a direct result of the pandemic.

“An overwhelming number of clinicians – 81% – disagree emphatically with the notion that primary care has rebounded,” Rebecca Etz, PhD, co-director of The Larry A. Green Center., said in the release. “Practice clinicians and staff are working longer hours to keep up with patient needs and still have yet to reach pre-pandemic capacity.”

Etz noted that significant furloughs, practice members out for child and elder care, and clinicians out due to illness and self-quarantine have caused the primary care platform to shrink.

“The past six months have shown us what short-term planning and lack of investment yields during times of crisis – devastation of a critical workforce,” she said in the release. “But the question is now: Are we committed enough to do something about it?”

Ann Greiner, president and CEO of the PCC noted in the release that the vast majority of primary care practices have not returned to their pre-pandemic status.

“The primary care system is fragile and shrinking as we approach the cold and flu season,” she said in the statement. “Practices need state, federal, and private-sector support to address disruptions to primary care funding so that they can safeguard the health of the public. Primary care is pandemic preparedness.”

The survey was conducted by the Larry A. Green Center, a research group based in Richmond, Virginia, and is part of a regular Green Center series to look at the attitudes of primary care clinicians and patients during the COVID-19 pandemic and the abilities of practices to meet patients’ needs.