Study finds slight rebound in patient volumes in May, but physicians still in danger financially

A study published recently by the Commonwealth Fund shows that although visits to ambulatory care practices have rebounded slightly, physicians are still facing major obstacles to get their practices back to pre-pandemic levels.

The Commonwealth Fund data released April 23 shows that the number of visits to outpatient physician practices declined by nearly 60 percent as of March 29, 2020, compared with pre-COVID-19 levels. But a new update showed that the number of visits rebounded slightly to below 30 percent as of May 10.

Although the rebound occurred across all specialties, the decline in visits remains largest among pediatricians and surgical and procedural specialties. And while the rebound is happening all across the country, it’s largest in the southern central region—Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, and Kentucky—some of whose states have moved to reopen in recent weeks.

According to the study, the rebound in visits is due to more in-person visits, while telehealth use has plateaued recently as in-person doctor visits increased. Providers say these data underscore the need for more funding to help primary care  physicians recover from the pandemic.

Aledade CEO Farzad Mostashari, MD, says practices that continue to stay open are incurring new operating costs, including setting up separate entrances for testing.

Dr. Mostashari added that Congress needs to allocate $15 billion specifically for primary care physicians. “We need to throw these practices a lifeline right now,” he said in a call with reporters about the Commonwealth Fund study.

“An investment in primary care now ensures that we have primary care,” said Melinda Abrams, senior vice president of delivery system reform and international innovations for the Commonwealth Fund. “We are worried about its collapse.”

Dr. Mostashari’s company, Aledade, partners with primary care physicians to help them become accountable care organizations. The company has gone to great lengths to help its partner ACOs, including sourcing and sending $1 million worth of personal protective equipment to the practices it supports.

Aledade also helped its partner practices launch telemedicine services through an arrangement with Updox, offering the service at a below-cost fee structure to enable as many ACOs as possible to provide telehealth visits to their patients.

To learn more about Aledade’s work to support independent primary care practices through this unprecedented time, listen to this episode of the company’s The ACO Show podcast.

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