New Data Shows Panic Among Primary Care Patients as Practices Face Mounting Financial Burdens, Layoffs and Closures

Findings underscore patients’ strong reliance on primary care during the pandemic even as practices are pushed to the brink amid COVID-19

WASHINGTON (May 27, 2020) – In new data released today by the Larry A. Green Center, in collaboration with 3rd Conversation and the Primary Care Collaborative (PCC), Americans report feeling “panicked, upset, or heartbroken” at the prospect of losing their primary care clinician, with 75% of respondents reporting a strong, established relationship with their doctor.

This data, which analyzes the attitudes of more than 2,250 primary care patients nationwide, sheds light on patient fears as primary care practices are at a high risk of closure. As reported by the Green Center and PCC May 13, more than 40% of primary care practices have laid off staff over the last eight weeks, and more than half are uncertain about their financial future one month from now.   

Simultaneously, practices are being pushed to the financial brink as demand from patients has increased. The survey shows nearly half of patients have been in contact with their primary care practice over the last eight weeks, with 1.6 touch-points per patient, a majority happening over telephone or telemedicine. Despite this activity, practices are facing major financial losses due to longstanding policies that favor in-person care.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has put our chronic underinvestment in primary care on full display,” said Dr. Rebecca Etz, PhD, co-director of The Larry A. Green Center and associate professor of Family Medicine and Population Health at Virginia Commonwealth University. “Without immediate financial support, we are looking at a matter of weeks - not months - that patients’ fears about primary care will turn into reality.”

“By any traditional business metrics, thousands of primary care practices should be closing their doors right now – but they stay open for us, their patients,” said Christine Bechtel, patient advocate and co-founder of 3rd Conversation. “The fact that, in the middle of a pandemic, our health professionals are struggling to keep their doors open is not just a frightening prospect, it is unacceptable. Lawmakers must act to provide immediate relief targeted to primary care practices," she said.

In spite of ongoing concern for the future of primary care, both patients and clinicians have a greater fear: re-opening the country too soon. As several states begin opening their economies, nearly 80% of patients and 90% of clinicians report they feel it is too soon – underscoring mounting concern of a potential second wave of COVID-19 if social-distancing measures are relaxed.

“At a time when mistrust of institutions is at an all-time high, 70% of patients report feeling secure in their trust of primary care,” said Ann Greiner, president and CEO of the Primary Care Collaborative. “Primary care is central to helping patients navigate this crisis right now. It will be essential in the months ahead as states begin to re-open and Americans turn to trusted sources to help them transition back to work and school.”

The survey was conducted online and was open to people 18 or older. The survey results reflect input from 2,250 respondents from a range of education levels (34% high school degree; 47% college degree; 14% graduate degree); income levels (44% less than $50,000 household income; 8% greater than $150,000 household income); and geographies (30% urban and 21% rural). One-third were 18-35 years old; one-third were over 50. Level of health varied, with 36% rating their health as very good and 30% saying good. 46% were male, 52% female; 43% were employed full-time, and 19% were employed part-time. 21% lost employment during the pandemic.

More information about the survey

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