In-person primary care fell dramatically in first 2 months of COVID-19, study finds

Overall health services declined by 23 percent in March and 52 percent in April, compared to the same period in 2018-19, according to a Nov. 5 study published in JAMA Network Open.

Researchers evaluated employer-sponsored insurance claims from 6.8 million patients across the U.S. in March and April. Changes in the use of preventive services, nonelective care, elective procedures, prescription drugs, in-person visits and telemedicine visits were cross-analyzed and compared to trends from 2018-19. 

The study found significant reductions in preventive and elective care: 

1. Colonoscopies fell by nearly 70 percent in patients ages 46 to 64.

2. Mammograms among women aged 46 to 62 saw a relative reduction of 67 percent.

3. Hemoglobin A1c blood tests decreased by nearly 51 percent.

4. Vaccinations in children ages zero to 2 years fell by 22.3 percent. 

5. Chemotherapy treatments fell by about 4 percent.

6. The use of musculoskeletal surgery decreased by 47.4 percent, nearly 60 percent for cataract surgery and 45 percent for MRIs. 

No significant changes were reported in the use of prescription drugs. Telemedicine services saw a booming increase of 1,270 percent in March and 4,081 percent in April, but these increases did not significantly offset the decrease of in-person visits, according to the study. 

Racial/ethnic disparities were also observed, with residents in lower-income or predominantly minority populations seeing smaller reductions in care and lower rates of telemedicine use. 

If these trends continue, “innovative approaches” will be needed to ensure quality and timely access to care, researchers said. 

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