There have been substantial decreases in primary care delivery during the COVID-19 pandemic despite the rapid uptick in the use of virtual care visits, according to a new study.
Despite the interest in telehealth fueled by the pandemic, virtual care didn't fill in the gap for missed primary care appointments, according to a study published in JAMA Open.
During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, doctors turned to virtual consultations to continue to provide care to their patients.
Primary care visits decreased by 21% during the second quarter of 2020 compared with the average quarterly visit volume of the second quarters of 2018 and 2019, the study found.
At the same time, telehealth visits, which accounted for fewer than 2% of primary care visits during 2019, jumped to 35% of visits during Q2 of 2020, according to the research.
But there have been marked reductions in the primary care assessment of patients' cardiovascular risk factors such as blood pressure and cholesterol levels as physicians were less likely to conduct these evaluations during telemedicine visits compared to office-based visits, the study found.
Researchers analyzed the U.S. National Disease and Therapeutic Index audit of more than 125.8 million primary care visits in the 10 calendar quarters between first quarter of 2018 and the second quarter of 2020.
"While the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted health care delivery in many ways, little is known regarding how the volume, site, and content of primary care in the U.S. has changed," the study authors wrote.
Of 59 million Q2 2020 office-based visits:
- 70% had a blood pressure recorded compared with 10% of telemedicine visits during the same time period, the study found.
- Cholesterol was also less commonly assessed during telemedicine visits than during office-based visits in Q2 2020, 14% vs 22%, relatively.
- New prescription medications were prescribed less often during telemedicine visits versus office-based visits during the second quarter, at 39% vs 45%.
The study results indicate that the COVID-19 pandemic has been associated with changes in the structure of primary care, with the content of telemedicine visits differing from that of office-based encounters.