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Canadian Primary Care Shifted to Virtual Early in Pandemic

Total visits declined least among those with higher health care needs

Canadian Primary Care Shifted to Virtual Early in Pandemic

MONDAY, Feb. 8, 2021 (HealthDay News) -- Primary care saw large shifts from office to virtual care during the first four months of the COVID-19 pandemic in Canada, according to a study published online Feb. 8 in CMAJ, the journal of the Canadian Medical Association.

Richard H. Glazier, M.D., M.P.H., from St. Michael's Hospital Centre for Urban Health Solutions in Toronto, and colleagues examined the degree to which office and virtual primary care visits changed and for which patients and physicians during the initial months of the pandemic in Canada. Billing data from Jan. 1 to July 28, 2020, were compared to data from the same period in 2019.

The researchers found that total primary care visits between March and July 2020 decreased by 28.0 percent (from 7.66 to 5.51 per 1,000 people/day) compared with 2019. Patients with the highest expected health care use experienced the smallest declines (8.3 percent), as did those who could not be attributed to a primary care physician (10.2 percent) and older adults (19.1 percent). The number of total visits in rural areas increased by 6.4 percent. There was a 79.1 percent decline in office visits but a 56-fold increase in virtual care, comprising 71.1 percent of primary care physician visits. Virtual care uptake was lowest among children (57.6 percent), rural residents (60.6 percent), and physicians with panels of ≥2,500 patients (66.0 percent).

"The determinants and consequences of these major shifts in care require further study," the authors write.

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