The US Won’t Return to its Pre-COVID-19 Normal Until August 2021, Say Frontline Treating Physicians from InCrowd’s Fifth COVID-19 Tracking Report

While five key factors improve, estimates on pandemic’s continued impact more than doubled;
20% say their mental health has suffered; only 34% will take an on-site pharma rep meeting before 2021

WATERTOWN MA June 15, 2020—The novel coronavirus (COVID-19)’s impact on the US will last more than twice as long as previously estimated by frontline physicians in April, who are now anticipating August 2021 before a return to normalcy. Despite substantially increased levels of system preparedness, fewer frontline physicians—24%, down from 30% in April—believe that the US can ‘flatten the curve’. Data are from the fifth report on US frontline COVID-19 treating physicians conducted and sourced by InCrowd, the pioneer for real-time, high-quality primary market intelligence for the life science industry.

“Physicians’ new, 14-month expectation for a return to normal in the US is similar to what we recently observed with our high-need patient data,” said Daniel S. Fitzgerald, CEO and president of InCrowd. “There seems to be an acceptance of a new normal—at least until there’s a vaccine. Unfortunately, we’re also seeing the toll this is taking on those on the frontlines, with 20% reporting that their mental health has seriously suffered and 35% still concerned over job security due to COVID-19. We’ll continue to monitor this strain on treating physicians.”

Five important parameters of healthcare system capacity showed significant or substantial improvement in InCrowd’s latest Wave 5 frontline treaters data:

  1. Testing kit access—At 91%, May’s reported access to testing was the highest since InCrowd’s COVID tracking began, with 8% of respondents writing in that their facilities are providing universal testing.
  2. COVID-19 caseloads—The reported percentage of confirmed or suspected COVID-19 patients has dropped to 13% in May from 21% in April, with the average number of per physician cases down to 16 from 23 respectively.
  3. Physician stressors—Some aspects of physician life are improving, with personal and family safety concerns each dropping over 20 percentage points since April. While 64% of physicians do not anticipate further job cuts or furloughs in the next 90 days, 63% reported job cuts or furloughs have already occurred.
  4. Improved outcomes—with 43% of physicians noting that their facilities have gotten better at treating COVID-19, and that mortality rates within their COVID-19 units declined. Patient concerns also have decreased significantly, with only half now cancelling routine appointments—down from 73% in April—and half of patients using telehealth visits.
  5. Facility preparedness—jumping significantlyacross nearly all markers of preparedness since April, including staffing and supplies. Over half of physician respondents now reported that their facilities are equipped for a second wave of COVID-19.

At the same time, only 19% of frontline COVID-19 treating physicians believe that the US is taking appropriate action, less than half that for governments outside of the US (44%). Nearly a quarter of respondents reported an uptick in cases since restrictions have eased in the past few weeks. Two-thirds believed that when re-opening occurs, everyone will need to continue with universal precautions, including improved hygiene and limits on facility capacity, until there is a vaccine.

Respondents also envisioned change to other standard office practices. Just 36% said they’d consider virtual meetings with pharma sales reps within the next 30 days. Just one-in-three (34%) would be willing to take a meeting in-person before 2021.

InCrowd’s Wave 5 also detailed new treatment strategies, concern on testing accuracy, and the personal toll that continued COVID-19 care exacts.

  • Thirty-two percent wrote-in that using strategies to improve breathing and blood oxygen levels (i.e. avoiding or prolonging ventilation, or putting a patient in the prone position), have improved patient outcomes.
  • Prescribing of Remdesivir jumped to 32% after gaining approval in early May. Antibiotics and hydroxychloroquine prescribing have both dropped significantly since April.
  • Although respondents are split on the accuracy of both viral and antibody tests, the largest proportion find that tests are around 50%-75% accurate in their experience.
  • Many physicians wrote-in that they frequently see patients test negative who have no other reasonable explanations for their symptoms other than COVID-19, or that they sometimes must test a patient repeatedly before getting a positive result.
  • Verbatim remarks showed the personal cost that many frontline treaters have paid.
    • I have lived apart from my family for 5 months with the exception of coming home just a few times. I have not kissed my kids or husband in these months.” —ER and Critical Care Physician
    • My daughter is immunosuppressed so we sent her to live with a host family so she would not be exposed if I came down with it from a patient at work, which I did. It was heartbreaking to be separated, but that decision probably saved her life.” —Primary Care Physician

InCrowd’s Wave 5 COVID-19 frontline treating physicians’ report included the perceptions of n=204 US physicians including emergency medicine and critical care specialists (n=82), primary care physicians (n=62), and pediatricians (n=60), each of whom is treating 20 or more unique patients for flu-like symptoms. The 10-minute MicroSurvey for Wave 5 fielded May 29-31, 2020. For more information download the full Wave 5 report.