The COVID-19 pandemic has affected not only the emergency medical system, but also patients' regular ambulatory care, as such decrease in the number of patients visiting outpatient clinics decreased in 2020 than in 2019, or the ban lifting of subsequent visits by telephone for outpatient clinics since March 2020 in lieu of ambulatory care for chronic diseases. In this context, we investigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on ambulatory care at Japanese outpatient clinics for patients with chronic neurological diseases during 2020. We collected data from the administrative claims database (DeSC database) covering more than 1 million individuals. Serial changes in the frequency of subsequent outpatient visits to clinics or hospitals (excluding large hospitals) for chronic ambulatory care of epilepsy, migraine, Parkinson's disease (PD), and Alzheimer's disease (AD) in 2020 were measured. As a result, since April 2020, the monthly outpatient visits for epilepsy, PD, and AD decreased slightly but significantly (approximately 0.90 in relative risk [RR]) but visits for migraine increased (RR = 1.15). Telephone visit was most frequently used in April-May, in less than 5% of monthly outpatient clinic visits for the examined neurological diseases. Outpatient visits for migraine treatment were more likely to be done by telephone than in case of other diseases (adjusted Odds ratio = 2.08). These results suggest that the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on regular ambulatory care for several chronic neurological diseases yielded different effect depending on the disease, in terms of the frequency or type of outpatient visits.
Keywords: COVID-19; administrative claims data; ambulatory care; chronic neurological disease; telemedicine.