How COVID-19 has affected general practice consultations and income – General Practitioner cross sectional population survey evidence from Ireland

Robyn Homeniuk, Claire Collins

Keywords: general practice, consultation method, COVID-19

General practice is at the forefront of Ireland’s COVID-19 response, as it is in many European countries. With rapid changes to the delivery of primary care, this study sought to add evidence to the gap in knowledge on how the pandemic is affecting general practice.

Research questions:
The primary objective was to understand the changes to consultations in general practice in Ireland.

This study employed a cross-sectional online survey instrument to obtain consultation rates and mode of delivery within general practice in Ireland. The survey was sent to the members of the Irish College of General Practitioners before the pandemic hit in February 2020 and again during the initial response in June 2020. The anonymous responses from each survey were collated and analysed using SPSS V25. We used descriptive statistics, t-tests to compare means and chi-square tests for categorical variables where appropriate.

In the survey before the arrival of COVID-19 in Ireland, 526 practices responded (32% of all practices in Ireland). In the second survey, during the initial COVID-19 response, 538 practices responded (33% of all practices in Ireland). For GPs, consultations via telemedicine (including telephone and video) increased from 10% to 57% of daily consultations whilst face-to-face consultations dropped from 87% to 41%. Overall, 80% of practices reported a reduced profit after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and 77% reported decreased attendance from patients with chronic conditions.

The way general practice is delivered in Ireland has dramatically changed since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Practice profits have decreased along with non-COVID related patient attendance. More research as the pandemic progresses is needed to understand the long-term impact of COVID-19 on general practice and how to prepare for future outbreaks.

Points for discussion:
Is this what we expected in terms of reduced attendance from specific groups?

Will telemedicine remain king as infection control measures ease?

What has happened in your country?