COVID-19 Pandemic Spotlights the Need for Primary Care Physicians

June 5, 2020
David Reichert, CCRA
David Reichert, CCRA

Dwindling reliance on primary care physicians is burdening healthcare system and limiting care resources.

As soon as someone is exposed to Covid-19 or begins showing symptoms, the initial wave of questions hits them hard and fast. Do I have symptoms consistent with Covid-19? Should I get tested? If so, where? Is my case serious or can I wait this out? How do I protect the people around me? What is my most affordable care option?

The answers to these questions and the more that will follow lie in the hands of trained and ready primary care physicians (PCPs); a resource many Americans are overlooking in their battle to combat Covid-19. Rising demand for emergency and urgent care services is well documented, as are the consequences. For example, emergency department (ED) crowding, increased costs, pressure on services, and waiting times. Especially, during the COVID-19 Pandemic, hospital EDs are in most cases, not the ideal place to determine if your symptoms may be COVID-19. The excessive load that these non-essential visits place on an already over-taxed system in addition to subjecting oneself to others who are infected is less than ideal. One of the most notable reasons listed for visiting EDs is the lack of a designated PCP. 

By far the most economical first step in diagnosing and treating Covid-19, PCPs have been increasingly underutilized in recent years. According to a 2019 study by Reuters Health, in a little over a decade, the number of patients in the U.S. with primary care providers dropped by 2%. While 2% may not seem like a big drop, the study's lead author, Dr. David Levine, an associate physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and an instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School, along with the co-authors; concluded that the drop in patients with primary care providers is equivalent to the population of New Jersey. The most dramatic decline was among those who were in their 60s and healthy with a 10% fall.

Primary care isn’t about healthy people getting an annual physical, it’s about having a relationship with a particular primary care provider, so that when you do get sick that doctor knows something about you. Additionally, having a relationship with a PCP ensures that they have all of your records and can better assist you with health issues or diagnosis. 

PCPs are not just the first line of defense, but possibly the best equipped and readily accessible. PCPs are prepared to analyze Covid-19 symptoms as well as related respiratory illnesses that can also be confused with this illness like allergy, asthma, and various infections. They will see you through diagnostics and treatment options; plus, as generalists, they are also able to identify multiple, diverse pathologies, and refer patients appropriately to specialists when necessary. 

To limit exposure and spread of Covid-19, PCPs are elevating telemedicine services as an effective way to initially vet patients concerned about COVID-19 symptoms. Additional practice procedures include examining patients outside to limit exposure and contagion, and providing additional in-office screenings for patients and staff. 

The best action to take when combating Covid-19 is to call your PCP. It’s a critical step to getting personalized care while minimizing costs, decreasing exposure, and potentially skipping the overburdened hospital system.

David Reichert is president of the Board of Directors for the Academy of Allergy and Asthma in Primary Care (AAAPC), brings over 35 years of Healthcare experience providing oversight for research and development, commercialization and improvements of healthcare products.