Primary care during the pandemic: lessons learnt from five european countries
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Institute for Advanced Studies (IHS), Vienna Josefstaedter Straße 39 1080 Vienna Austria
Institute for Advanced Studies (IHS), Vienna Austria
Publication date: 2023-04-26
Popul. Med. 2023;5(Supplement):A435
Background and objective:
The COVID-19 pandemic necessitated wide-ranging adaptations to the organisation of health systems, and primary care is no exception. This study aims to collate insights on the various impacts of the pandemic on primary care. The gained knowledge should help to increase pandemic preparedness and resilience of the primary care system.

We conducted a qualitative study employing semi-structured interviews with primary care providers in Austria, Denmark, France, Hungary, and Italy. A total of 31 interviews were conducted between June and August 2022 and subjected to an overarching analysis to identify key themes.

Disruptions to service delivery led to a widespread adoption of telemedicine. Despite the rapid increase in telemedicine usage and efforts of primary care providers to organise face-to-face care delivery in a safe way, some patient populations such as elderly or chronically ill patients were particularly affected by disruptions in service delivery. Moreover, primary care providers perceived a substantial propagation of misinformation about COVID-19 and vaccines among the population, which also threatened patient-physician relationships. At the same time, primary care providers faced an increased workload, had to work with insufficient personal protective equipment and were provided with incongruous guidelines while pandemic response policies were mostly focused on hospitals. There was a consensus among primary care providers that they were mostly sidelined by public health policy in the context of pandemic management.

A better integration of primary care with public health and a better involvement of the primary care sector into the pandemic response would have generated a benefit for both patients and care providers. Primary care is well-equipped to manage most mild cases, thereby potentially relieving pressure from hospitals. Continuity of usual care should be prioritised and can be safeguarded by care provision via telemedicine or face-to-face, depending on the individual case.