The economic impact of COVID-19 on health care continues to reveal itself through reductions in patient volume and revenue and in higher practice costs. As the pandemic stretches on, physician practice viability remains under threat.
The following key statistics, which represent the results of an AMA nationwide physician survey, illustrate the precarious trends and realities physicians now face.
- 81% of physicians surveyed in July and August said revenue was still lower than pre-pandemic.
- Average drop in revenue: 32%
Even with eased telehealth coverage restrictions, telehealth services did not offset reduced in-person patient visits.
- 81% of physicians were still providing fewer in-person visits when surveyed than pre-pandemic.
- Average in-person visits fell from 95 to 57 per week.
- At the height of use, weekly telehealth visits were almost 5 times higher than pre-pandemic.
- At the time of the survey, weekly telehealth visits were still almost 3 times higher than pre-pandemic levels.
- Almost 70% of physicians, despite telehealth increases, were still providing fewer total visits (in-person + telehealth) at the time of the survey than pre-pandemic.
- Average total visits fell from 101 to 72 per week.
A significant expense: New safety practices require use of more PPE. Supplies remain difficult to acquire—especially for smaller practices that lack purchasing power or vendor relationships to compete with larger health systems in the marketplace.
- 64% of practice owners said that spending on PPE was up from pre-pandemic. Average increase in PPE spending was 57%.
- 36% of physicians said that acquiring PPE was very or extremely difficult. Difficulties were more acute for smaller practices and those that were physician-owned.
Federal financial relief early in the pandemic was helpful and appreciated but the core revenue issues these programs were intended to address remain. The vast majority of practice owners said federal financial assistance programs were very or extremely helpful.
It is clear the COVID-19 pandemic continues to have a negative impact on physician practices both in terms of decreased revenue and increased costs. While initial federal financial relief programs were helpful to practices that applied, it appears the road to recovery, particularly for smaller physician-owned practices, remains difficult and more economic relief is needed.