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Is primary care ready for a potential new public health emergency in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, now subsided?

Family Practice 2024 January 30
INTRODUCTION: The lingering burden of the COVID-19 pandemic on primary care clinicians and practices poses a public health emergency for the United States. This study uses clinician-reported data to examine changes in primary care demand and capacity.

METHODS: From March 2020 to March 2022, 36 electronic surveys were fielded among primary care clinicians responding to survey invitations as posted on listservs and identified through social media and crowd sourcing. Quantitative and qualitative analyses were performed on both closed- and open-ended survey questions.

RESULTS: An average of 937 respondents per survey represented family medicine, pediatrics, internal medicine, geriatrics, and other specialties. Responses reported increases in patient health burden, including worsening chronic care management and increasing volume and complexity. A higher frequency of dental- and eyesight-related issues was noted by respondents, as was a substantial increase in mental or emotional health needs. Respondents also noted increased demand, "record high" wait times, and struggles to keep up with patient needs and the higher volume of patient questions. Frequent qualitative statements highlighted the mismatch of patient needs with practice capacity. Staffing shortages and the inability to fill open clinical positions impaired clinicians' ability to meet patient needs and a substantial proportion of respondents indicated an intention to leave the profession or knew someone who had.

CONCLUSION: These data signal an urgent need to take action to support the ability of primary care to meet ongoing patient and population health care needs.

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