Nearly 40% of physicians are seeing COVID-19 patients. And nearly 60% of physicians who are not seeing those patients are willing to do so, according to a new study conducted by physician search firm, Merritt Hawkins, and The Physicians Foundation, a nonprofit that advances the work of physicians.
Physicians are also increasingly turning to telemedicine to treat patients as the COVID-19 pandemic changes how they approach primary care. According to the survey, 48% indicate they are using telemedicine to treat patients as of the new survey compared with 18% who did so in 2018.
“The impact on physicians from COVID-19 is going to be transformative,” said Travis Singleton, executive vice president of Merritt Hawkins. “The way patients access physicians and how and where physicians practice will fundamentally change.”
The survey, “Physicians and COVID-19,” released last week, captured responses from 842 physicians from 37 different specialties, including family medicine, cardiology, emergency medicine and others.
The survey also captured a silver lining in a challenging time.
“One positive result of the pandemic is that barriers to accessing physician services through telemedicine may be reduced, which will be critical as the nation deals with a growing physician shortage,” Singleton said.
A Shift in job roles amid COVID-19?
Another takeaway from the survey is that physicians are changing job roles, voluntarily or involuntarily, in the wake of the pandemic. The survey reports that 21% of physicians have been furloughed or took a pay cut. And about 32% said that they planned to leave patient care roles, change practice settings, temporarily shutter their practices or retire in response to COVID-19. (Another 30% indicated that they will continue to see patients, despite the toll of stress.)
“The impact on physicians from COVID-19 is going to be transformative,” Singleton said. “The way patients access physicians and how and where physicians practice will fundamentally change.”
Singleton said that hospitals should note these responses and hone in on physician retention once the pandemic has been contained.
Gary Price, MD, president of the Physicians Foundation, said that “prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, physicians were … experiencing high rates of burnout and mental health issues caused by stressors like regulatory burdens and EHR use.” Amid the pandemic, solutions should be provided to “ease the financial and emotional burdens” of “health care workers who are risking their lives to take care of everyone else.”