During the coronavirus pandemic, GPs had to take over some of the tasks of hospitals and mental healthcare providers. While they believe this was helpful for some patients, in most cases they found this to be undesirable. By contrast, other changes – such as more personalised care for chronically ill patients – were useful. This is according to interviews by RIVM researchers with GPs about lessons learned during the pandemic.

In the interviews, the GPs stated that the additional tasks increased their workload. In addition, they sometimes lacked the necessary training. They therefore underscored the need to coordinate substitute care carefully in the future and to make clear agreements about the division of responsibilities. The ongoing pressure on GP care makes it important to learn from changes made to GP care during the coronavirus pandemic.

Changes to care

In addition to carrying out substitute tasks, GPs had to adjust their ‘own’ care during the pandemic. Coronavirus measures limited the number of people GP practices could see. This prompted GPs to offer more care digitally, such as through video calls and in writing through chat and email. GPs also restructured the provision of care to chronically ill patients, for example by having them come in less often or, in some cases, switching to digital communication.

Varied experiences with changes

GPs reported both positive and negative sides to these changes. They stated that online consultations in writing work well for short, straightforward questions and interactions, such as about skin irregularities or medication changes. GPs also learned that it is possible to offer chronically ill patients more personalised care, for example by determining the frequency of appointments and potential use of digital healthcare on a per-patient basis. In addition, they were positive about 15-minute appointments (instead of 10) and increased consultation with GP assistants. GPs were less positive about video calls as a replacement for face-to-face consultations. One reason for this is that the inability to see patients in person made it more difficult to assess their symptoms.

Unclear picture of some patients

GPs also reported not having a clear picture of which patients stayed away completely and why these patients did not contact them. While some symptoms may have resolved on their own, it is also possible that people avoided care and are still experiencing symptoms. GPs are concerned about this potential hidden suffering among their patients, particularly the frail and elderly. Some are now returning for visits, often with a list of symptoms. It seems as if they ‘saved up’ these symptoms until it was possible to see their GP again.

The Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport commissioned this study.