Visits to primary care doctors declined by as much as 60% as the COVID-19 outbreak took hold in the United States in early April, an analysis on Wednesday. The impact on health, even as practices begin to reopen for non-coronavirus patients, has been significant, experts say. In research conducted by The Commonwealth Fund, researchers found that although patients are starting to see primary care doctors again in late April, overall visits are down by roughly one-third from normal levels since the start of the year.
A separate analysis published by the New England Journal of Medicine found the number of people hospitalized after having a heart attack in northern California dropped by 48% since the start of the year compared to the same period in 2019. The authors, from Kaiser Permanente, which oversees 21 hospitals and 255 health clinics in the region, said the decline isn’t due to fewer heart attacks, but rather the reluctance of some people to seek non-coronavirus care during the pandemic.
If people are unable to see primary care doctors during the pandemic, either because the practices are closed or are concerned about being exposed to the virus, the United States will “pay the price with more heart attacks and strokes.” There are other health issues over the long term, experts say.