The aims of our study were to describe the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown on primary care in Germany regarding the number of consultations, the prevalence of specific reasons for consultation presented by the patients, and the frequency of specific services performed by the GP.
We conducted a longitudinal observational study based on standardised GP interviews in a quota sampling design comparing the time before the COVID-19 pandemic (12 June 2015 to 27 April 2017) with the time during lockdown (21 April to 14 July 2020). The sample included GPs in urban and rural areas 120 km around Hamburg, Germany, and was stratified by region type and administrative districts. Differences in the consultation numbers were analysed by multivariate linear regressions in mixed models adjusted for random effects on the levels of the administrative districts and GP practices.
One hundred ten GPs participated in the follow-up, corresponding to 52.1% of the baseline. Primary care practices in 32 of the 37 selected administrative districts (86.5%) could be represented in both assessments. At baseline, GPs reported 199.6 ± 96.9 consultations per week, which was significantly reduced during COVID-19 lockdown by 49.0% to 101.8 ± 67.6 consultations per week (p < 0.001). During lockdown, the frequency of five reasons for consultation (-43.0% to -31.5%) and eleven services (-56.6% to -33.5%) had significantly decreased. The multilevel, multivariable analyses showed an average reduction of 94.6 consultations per week (p < 0.001).
We observed a dramatic reduction of the number of consultations in primary care. This effect was independent of age, sex and specialty of the GP and independent of the practice location in urban or rural areas. Consultations for complaints like low back pain, gastrointestinal complaints, vertigo or fatigue and services like house calls/calls at nursing homes, wound treatments, pain therapy or screening examinations for the early detection of chronic diseases were particularly affected.