Patients believe that the accessibility of GP care is under pressure due to COVID-19 measures

Patients believe that the accessibility of GP care is under pressure due to COVID-19 measures

The COVID-19 pandemic has enormous impact on healthcare systems worldwide. Although the emphasis here was on hospital and intensive care occupancy, much has also changed in general practitioners care in the Netherlands. Patients felt that some of these changes had a positive effect on general practitioner care, but that accessibility to general practitioners and the continuation of regular care did come under pressure. This is the conclusion of research by the University Medical Center Groningen (UMCG) and Nivel. The results were published in the British Journal of General Practice Open.

It is important to know how patients experienced the change in general practitioners care (GP care) to learn from them in the future. What changes do patients like to see remain and what, on the contrary, should we avoid?

Accessibility and continuity

Interviews (period January - June 2021) with patients from the north, east and south of the Netherlands show that there have been varying experiences with GP care in the Netherlands during the COVID-19 outbreak. On the one hand, changes such as the increased use of digital consultations for simple problems and more time for a consultation with the GP were perceived as positive. Patients, therefore, like to see these changes continue after the pandemic.
On the other hand, patients felt that they were not always welcome at the GP's office. Also, check-up appointments for chronic conditions such as diabetes and asthma were often postponed. These changes were perceived negatively.

Regular care also continues during the pandemic

Previous research showed that after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of visits to the general practitioner decreased rapidly, both for acute and long-term healthcare issues. This may imply that many patients stayed away from the GP with complaints for which they would otherwise go to the GP. Patients gave various reasons for not visiting the GP, such as fear of being infected with COVID-19 or wanting to relieve the healthcare system. Still, it is important that patients contact the GP if they feel it is necessary.

About the study

The study took place in a collaboration between Nivel, University Medical Center Groningen (UMCG), Radboud University Medical Center (Radboud UMC), and Maastricht University Medical Center+ (Maastricht UMC+). The study is part of a large-scale investigation into the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on general practitioner care in the Netherlands, the COVID-GP Project.