At this point, most people throw up their hands when asked what comes after the pandemic. Shifting circumstances make our expectations murky. But physicians across the U.S. have some guesses. What could the medical future look like after COVID-19?
Medical Losses and Technological Advances
A new survey from the Physicians Foundation took responses from 3,513 physicians to learn their experience of COVID-19. The reported findings appeared on Aug. 18. It includes the harmful impacts you’d expect. But it also presents more hopeful glimpses into doctors’ resolve and into burgeoning telehealth opportunities.
Here’s what you should know, right from physicians’ mouths.
The bad news: COVID-19 has strained most doctors.
- 8% of physicians said they’ve closed their practices due to COVID-19
- 43% report reducing their staff
- 72% said they have had reduced income
Beyond these past impacts, the doctors also expected continued setbacks: 59% of them agreed that COVID-19 will reduce the number of independent practices in their communities.
The mixed bag: telehealth has expanded, but doctors aren’t sure of its future.
- 12% of physicians have switched primarily to telehealth because of COVID-19
- An estimated 100,000 doctors have made this change, compared to only 6,000 in 2018
- 52% plan to increase their telehealth services
- 85% believe that telehealth will become more widespread
But telemedicine’s continued use isn’t assured, doctors also said. 72% of them reported believing that widespread telehealth won’t continue after COVID-19, unless virtual medical visits receive insurance reimbursement at similar rates to in-person visits.
The good news: doctors report widespread PPP support and resolve for their medical future, despite COVID-19.
When asked about the Paycheck Protection Program, 75% of doctors who applied for it said they they received its funds. They added also that the support was sufficient to keep their practices open.
Want the most feel-good news of the report? Nearly every physician asked (96% of respondents) said they won’t leave medicine because of COVID-19 health risks.
What Does the Medical Future Look Like for North Carolina?
It looks much like the future which the survey’s findings suggests. North Carolina Medical Society CEO Robert W. Seglison (also CEO of the Physicians Foundation) said as much. “The Physicians Foundation survey results … mirror what we have heard from our physicians and PA members in North Carolina,” he said via email. “They are concerned that as patients forego routine care today, they will see more acute health problems down the road.”
But Seglison also highlighted the opportunity for telemedicine. “On a positive note,” he said, “the rapid adoption of telehealth at the start of the pandemic is likely to be an enduring option in the future and will improve access to care.”
Of course, the medical future after COVID-19 remains uncertain, no matter the insights physicians give us. That’s why the Physicians Foundation has two more surveys on deck to better understand other impacts. The Aug. 18 report, then, gives only one part of three.
Stay tuned to hear how else COVID-19 has rocked (and will rock) medical practices and healthcare systems!