Encourage your patients to get necessary care during the pandemic

The pandemic has completely changed the medical care landscape over the past few months and has particularly affected outpatient care. Patients are avoiding leaving their homes to see their doctor or go to the hospital. To find out just how profound this change is, researchers at Harvard University and Phreesia, a health care technology company, analyzed data on changes in visit volume for the more than 50,000 Phreesia providers.

Partners Healthcare recently collaborated with area hospitals on a public service announcement (PSA) to encourage patients to seek emergency medical care when needed. The campaign is a response to the significant decrease in emergency department visits nationwide during the COVID-19 crisis – a concerning trend that's reflected in the Harvard report.  

How researchers analyzed their data

Phreesia is a health care technology company that helps ambulatory practices with their patient intake process, which includes registration, insurance verification, patient questionnaires, patient-reported outcomes, and payments. This study analyzed data from Phreesia’s clients: 1,600 provider organizations, representing over 50,000 providers across the country. In a typical year, these organizations see about 1 million patients every week, with 47% of these patient visits being primary care.

The data was gathered from each practice’s management/scheduling software, the check-in information patients submitted on the Phreesia platform, and selected data from the electronic health record. Visits were captured from February 1 through April 16, 2020, and the data was analyzed in by Phreesia staff in consultation with Harvard University researchers.

Declining doctor visits

Though doctor visits have declined significantly for all age groups, older adults and school-age children saw the largest declines. Visits have declined by 65% among adults age 75 and older and declined by 71% among children age 7–17. Every region in the US has seen a decline in visits, with the New England and Mid-Atlantic states having the most significant downturn at 64% less visits. Different specialties are showing very different rates of decline, with specialties like behavioral health, obstetrics/gynecology, and endocrinology having the least (30%, 45%, and 46% respectively) and specialties like ophthalmology, otolaryngology, and dermatology having the most (79%, 75%, and 73% respectively). The number of visits to ambulatory practices declined nearly 60% in mid-March and has been low since, and 30% of visits to ambulatory practices are now provided through telemedicine. Telemedicine visits have increased, but this has so far not been enough to offset the decline of in-person visits.

Find these results and other information by viewing the study here.

How to encourage your patients to get care

Given these statistics, chances are good that not all of your patients are getting the necessary care they need. They are likely afraid of COVID-19 exposure, and this may cause them to put off emergency care. In light of this, let your patients know that they should still call 911 and see a doctor if they experience a health emergency, and that hospitals are working hard to prevent COVID-19 and keep patients safe.  

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