Nearly half of physicians believe it will take a year to get COVID-19 under control

Doctor in mask shows a tablet to a patient in a mask.
Physicians are worried about employment changes that may result in patients losing health insurance during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Getty/FG Trade)

The majority of physicians believe COVID-19 won’t be under control until January 2021, and nearly half (49%) expect it will take much longer to get the virus under control.

Most doctors (59%) also see opening businesses, schools and public places as a bigger risk to patients than continuing policies of social isolation, according to survey of 3,500 providers conducted by The Physicians Foundation.

The results are part of a three-part survey examining how COVID-19 is affecting and is perceived by U.S. physicians.

A majority of physicians (72%) believe that the virus will severely impact patient health outcomes due to delayed routine care during the pandemic, the survey found.

"The data reveals a near-consensus among America’s physicians about COVID-19’s immediate and lasting impact on our health care system,” said Gary Price, M.D., president of The Physicians Foundation in a statement.

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"We are living through a historical shift in the way we practice and how we deliver care to patients. Our health care landscape is constantly changing right now, and we expect it will be radically different for both physicians and our patients long after the pandemic passes," he said.

Doctors see a potential harm to patients caused by the “indirect effects” of the virus. The primary indirect harm to patients presented by COVID-19, cited by 75% of physicians, is employment changes that may result in patients losing health insurance. The loss of employer-based health insurance may prevent patients from seeking the care they need and in turn, exacerbate their ill health.

Close to three quarters (72%) of physicians indicated that COVID-19 will have serious consequences for patient health in their communities because many patients delayed getting care they needed during the pandemic

COVID-19 will also lead to a reduction in the number of independent physician practices in their communities, according to 59% of physicians.

Eight percent of physicians have already closed their practices as a result of COVID-19, a number totaling approximately 16,000 practices. In addition, 43% of physicians have reduced staff due to COVID-19.

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About three-quarters of doctors (72%) have experienced a reduction in income due to COVID-19. Of these, more than half (55%) have experienced income losses of 26% or more.

Despite new and mounting challenges faced by physicians amid COVID-19, nearly all (96%), will not leave medicine because of pandemic-related health risks.

This optimistic outlook comes on the heels of Paycheck Protection Program Support, with 75% of those who applied indicating they received support and it was sufficient for them to stay open.

“Physicians are the foundation of our health care system, and those on the frontlines of the pandemic are evidence of this fact as they continue to care for their patients, families and colleagues,” said Robert Seligson, CEO of The Physicians Foundation in a statement.

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“This survey emphasizes how the pre-existing issues within our health care system, such as physician shortages and lack of patient access to health care, will continue to worsen unless we empower and support physicians as they continue to work tirelessly through a global pandemic.”

The pandemic also has led to the rapid adoption of virtual care to continue to provide healthcare services to patients.

Twelve percent of physicians—approximately 100,000—have switched to a primarily telemedicine practice as a result of COVID-19, up 1,577% from only 6,000 in 2018.

The majority (52%) of physicians indicated they plan to increase use of telemedicine in their practice in the next 12 months, while 4% said they plan to switch to a primarily telemedicine practice.