BACKGROUND: The organization of healthcare systems changed significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic. The impact on the use of primary care during various key periods in 2020 has been little studied.
METHODS: Using individual data from the national health database, we compared the numbers of people with at least one consultation, deaths, the total number of consultations for the population of mainland France (64.3 million) and the mean number of consultations per person (differentiating between teleconsultations and consultations in person) between 2019 and 2020. We performed analyses by week, by lockdown period (March 17 to May 10, and October 30 to December 14 [less strict]), and for the entire year. Analyses were stratified for age, sex, deprivation index, epidemic level, and disease.
RESULTS: During the first lockdown, 26% of the population consulted a general practitioner (GP) at least once (-34% relative to 2019), 7.4% consulted a nurse (-28%), 1.6% a physiotherapist (-80%), and 5% a dentist (-95%). For specialists, consultations were down 82% for ophthalmologists and 37% for psychiatrists. The deficit was smaller for specialties making significant use of teleconsultations. During the second lockdown, the number of consultations was close to that in 2019, except for GPs (-7%), pediatricians (-8%), and nurses (+ 39%). Nurses had already seen a smaller increase in weekly consultations during the summer, following their authorization to perform COVID-19 screening tests. The decrease in the annual number of consultations was largest for dentists (-17%), physiotherapists (-14%), and many specialists (approximately 10%). The mean number of consultations per person was slightly lower for the various specialties, particularly for nurses (15.1 vs. 18.6). The decrease in the number of consultations was largest for children and adolescents (GPs: -10%, dentists: -13%). A smaller decrease was observed for patients with chronic diseases and with increasing age. There were 9% excess deaths, mostly in individuals over 60 years of age.
CONCLUSIONS: There was a marked decrease in primary care consultations in France, especially during the first lockdown, despite strong teleconsultation activity, with differences according to age and healthcare profession. The impact of this decrease in care on morbidity and mortality merits further investigation.