COVID-19 Impact on Physician Practice

Are you a physician struggling to keep your medical practice afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic? If so, you are not alone. In an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus, health care professionals are urged to prioritize urgent care and emergency needs for in-person visits, while using telemedicine services for other care. This can also mean a decline in revenue if physicians are not seeing a steady flow of patients like they were before the coronavirus pandemic hit.

The Physicians Foundation published a survey which examined how COVID-19 is affecting and is perceived by physicians across the nation. Some of the key findings from that survey revealed:

  • 72% of physicians have experienced a reduction in income due to COVID-19. Of these, 55% have experienced income losses of 26% or more.
  • 43% of physicians have reduced staff due to COVID-19
  • 37% of physicians saw volume decreases in their practices of 25% or less
  • 12% of physicians have switched to a primarily telemedicine practice as a result of COVID-19
  • 8% of physicians have closed their practices as a result of COVID-19

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) have published guidelines and framework to help support practicing physicians operate their practices in efficient and safe ways. According to one article, “CMS expanded coverage of and access to telehealth services to minimize Medicare beneficiaries’ need to seek care at a physician’s office or a hospital.”  However, the Physicians Foundation survey found that 72% of physicians believe telemedicine will not continue to be widely used in practice unless reimbursement rates for telemedicine visits remain comparable to in-person visits.

So, what can you do as a physician to navigate safe practice during COVID-19? Here the American Medical Association’s recommendations:

  • Instruct patients to call for clinical advice prior to an appointment if they have symptoms of illness, COVID-19 or otherwise.
  • Align rescheduling and/or cancellation policies with CDC and CMS guidance. Communicate to patients and staff that a planned appointment may need to be rescheduled or take place in a different setting, e.g. via telemedicine visit, if the patient is developing symptoms of a respiratory infection.
  • Utilize a recorded message where possible advising patients how to self-screen and to advise those who have recently traveled to self-quarantine if recommended by the CDC and/or their state or local department of health.
  • Define a common language or provide a standard script for staff to use when speaking to patients.
  • Identify patients in the high-risk category for severe illness, should they develop COVID-19, including older adults and those who have serious chronic medical conditions, e.g. heart disease, diabetes, and lung disease.
  • Increase prescription medication refills to a 90-day supply if allowed and as appropriate based on their clinical status. They should contact their pharmacy to ensure this can be filled.
  • Encourage patients to contact their plan if refills are not initially approved. Several insurance companies have pledged to waive prescription refill limits on “maintenance medications”
  • Remind patients to check supplies of over-the-counter medication (e.g., acetaminophen, cough suppressants).

Be sure to check with your state to determine if it has issued its own directive or order and follow any associated guidance that it may have issued. Stay up to date with the CDC and CMS interim guidance for any changes.

For a collection of financial support available for physicians and practices during the COVID-19 pandemic, click here.

Sources:

COVID-19: A Physician Guide to Keeping Your Practice Open

Helping Private Practices Navigate Non-Essential Care During COVID-19

COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions

Physicians Foundation Survey

COVID-19’s Crushing Effects on Medical Practices, Some of Which Might Not Survive