Opportunities and challenges in delivering remote primary care during the Coronavirus outbreak

V. Kaufman-Shriqui*, M. Shani, M. Boaz, A. Lahad, S. Vinker, R. Birk

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Background: Social distancing and lockdowns were implemented during the first period of the COVID-19 pandemic. Primary care physicians needed to adapt quickly to deliver remote care/telemedicine. Methods: A cross-sectional, 47-item online Google Survey was distributed through the Israel Association of Family Physicians (IAFP) mailing list between March 31-May 5, 2020. The questionnaire included demographics, physician characteristics, and information on usage and perceived telemedicine quality. Sampling weights by sex and age groups were applied. Results: One hundred fifty-nine primary care physicians (10.6% of registered IAFP members; 63.5% women; mean age 53.4 ± 10.4 years and median professional experience 21.3 years) replied to the survey. The majority (59.7%) of the participants performed a mixture of in-person along with phone counseling. About 40% had no former telemedicine experience. The majority indicated that telephone and video formats were inferior to in-person consultation (68%, 57.1% online and phone, respectively). The overall counseling quality grade (on a 1–10 scale,)median (IQR)) was 6.2 (3) for telephone and 7(2) for video. While 66.9% reported experiencing no challenges, 10% had technical problems, 10% interpersonal problems, 5.6% scheduling difficulties, and 7.5% other difficulties. Majority of 56.6% physicians indicated they prescribed more antibiotics,16.4% sent more blood tests, 24.5% referred more to experts, and 49.7% referred more to imaging in comparison to usual counseling. Higher phone quality score was significantly associated with physicians who indicated not prescribing more antibiotics during the pandemic (OR = 0.30, 95%CI 0.134–0.688, p = 0.004). Higher online quality score was associated with physicians who indicated not sending more blood tests during the pandemic (OR = 0.06 95%CI 0.008–0.378, P = 0.003). Conclusions: Our findings suggest telehealth holds considerable promise for counseling in the primary care setting. However, interpersonal challenges raised by physicians should be understood in-depth to develop tailored training and further examine it in randomized trials while integrating patient-reported outcomes. Finally, further research on utility, cost, and cost-efficiency during remote counseling with follow-ups, medical prescribing, and additional referrals is needed.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number135
JournalBMC Primary Care
Issue number1
StatePublished - 31 May 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, The Author(s).


  • COVID-19
  • Coronavirus
  • Health survey
  • Primary care
  • Telehealth
  • Telemedicine


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