Using Virtual Visits to Care for Primary Care Patients With COVID-19 Symptoms

J Am Board Fam Med. 2021 Feb;34(Suppl):S147-S151. doi: 10.3122/jabfm.2021.S1.200241.


Purpose: Examine use of office resources by primary care patients who were initially evaluated through telehealth, telephone, or in-person encounters.

Methods: Retrospective electronic health record review on patients seen in March 2020 for evaluation of potential COVID-19 symptoms, to assess the total number of interactions with physicians and office staff.

Results: Of 202 patients, 89 (44%) had initial telehealth, 55 (27%) telephone, and 52 (26%) in-person encounters. Patients initially evaluated through telehealth, telephone, and in-person encounters had a mean of 6.1 (S.D. = 3.7), 5.2 (S.D. = 3.6), and 4.5 (S.D. = 3.0) total interactions with the office, respectively (P = .03), and 9%, 12.7%, and 19.2%, respectively, had a subsequent in-person or emergency department visit (P = .22). Multivariable analysis showed no differences in number of office interactions based on initial visit type; older patients (95% CI = 0.00-0.07) and those with subjective fevers (95% CI = 1.01-3.01) or shortness of breath (95% CI = 0.23-2.28) had more interactions with the office.

Conclusion: Primary care providers used virtual visits to care for most patients presenting with potential COVID-19 symptoms, with many patients choosing telephone over telehealth visits. Virtual visits can successfully limit patient exposure to other people, and consideration could be given to increasing its use for patients with potential symptoms of COVID-19.

Keywords: COVID-19; California, Cough; Dyspnea; Family Medicnie; Fever; Primary Health Care; Retrospective Studies; Telemedicine.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • COVID-19 / diagnosis*
  • COVID-19 / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Office Visits / statistics & numerical data
  • Pandemics
  • Primary Health Care / methods*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Telemedicine / statistics & numerical data*
  • Telephone / statistics & numerical data
  • Young Adult