Publication date

The use of out-of-hours primary care during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ramerman, L., Rijpkema, C., Bos, N., Flinterman, L.E., Verheij, R.A. The use of out-of-hours primary care during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. BMC Health Services Research: 2022, 22(2), p. Art. nr. 679.
Read online
In the Netherlands, General Practitioners (GP) are usually the first point of contact with a health professional for most health problems. Out-of-hours (OOH) primary care is provided by regional OOH services. Changes in consultation rates at OOH services may be regarded as a warning system for failures elsewhere in the healthcare system. Therefore in this study, we investigated how the COVID-19 pandemic changed the use of primary care OOH services during the first year of the pandemic.

Routine electronic health records data were used from 60% of OOH services in the Netherlands, collected by the Nivel Primary Care Database. We compared consultation rates per week (2020) for COVID-19-like symptoms and other health problems (e.g. small traumas, urinary tract infections), for different age groups, the proportion of remote consultations, and different levels of urgency during the pandemic compared to the same period in 2019.

The number of consultations for COVID-19-like symptoms peaked at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, while consultations for other health problems decreased. These changes in consultation rates differed between age groups. Remote consultations took place more frequently for all health problems, while the proportion of non-urgent health problems increased.

There were significant changes in the number of consultations and the proportion that were remote for COVID-19-like symptoms and other health problems. Especially care for babies and young children decreased, while the number of consultations for older adults remained stable. The continued use of OOH services by older adults suggests there were unmet care needs elsewhere in our healthcare system.