Medical practices of all sizes and specialties are starting to feel the long-term impact of COVID-19. Whether they’re responding directly to the public health crisis or facing a decrease in patient volume as a result of it, practices are struggling to stay afloat.
The long-term impact of COVID-19
Let’s look at three trends that help illuminate the long-term impact of COVID-19 on U.S. medical practices.
1. Many family practices are closing
The financial challenges of COVID-19 are hitting large hospital systems and small family practices alike.
For example, Mass General hospital has predicted a 50 percent loss in patient-care volume over the next 3-4 months. This will reduce annual revenues by roughly $1.2 billion. But in April the hospital also guaranteed that employees wouldn’t face salary cuts or forced furloughs for eight weeks. Like many larger hospitals, they’re more likely to have sufficient assets to weather the storm.
Surviving COVID-19 is even more challenging for the roughly half of all family medicine physicians who work in small practices. These practices rely on high volumes of minor procedures to keep their office open. But most patients aren’t coming in.
As a result, the American Academy of Family Physicians predicts that to 60,000 primary care practices may close between April and June 2020. That includes over 780,000 healthcare jobs and $64 billion in lost wages and salaries.
2. The physician shortage will get worse
The U.S. was already dealing with a physical shortage before the pandemic, caused largely by growing demand from a growing, aging population. Last year the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAM) predicted a shortage of nearly 122,000 physicians by 2032.
One long-term impact of COVID-19 could be increased strain on the healthcare workforce. Many medical practices have already been forced to layoff and furlough staff in response to financial challenges associated with the pandemic. In May 2020, an estimated one third of practices will have laid off staff. Roughly 60 percent of medical practices will have been forced to furlough staff.
It’s hard to predict how many of these physicians will be back at work in the coming months or years. But these impacts do not bode well for the country’s ability to meet a growing demand for healthcare workers.
3. A reinforced need for new payment models
Today, healthcare mostly still pays providers using a fee-for-service model. But at a time when most people have stopped going to the doctor, the problems with this system are more obvious than ever.
In the past months, doctors’ revenue has dropped dramatically. This has happened even as many continue working long hours to respond to the pandemic. Nationally the healthcare system is facing a 55-70 percent decrease in revenue, and a growing number of medical practices are laying off staff.
But amidst this tragedy is a silver lining: the pandemic reinforced the need for new payment models. The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation recently announced a 2021 project to move some primary-care practices to a “global budget.” This is a per-month payment system that allows doctors to care for a population in whatever ways are necessary.
This “Primary Care First Model” is one example of efforts to reward quality care by aligning financial rewards with improved health outcomes. Many believe it is a long-needed step in the right direction, which is being revealed ever more starkly in light of COVID-19.