Frequency and Type of Outpatient Visits for Patients With Cardiovascular Ambulatory-Care Sensitive Conditions During the COVID-19 Pandemic and Subsequent Outcomes: A Retrospective Cohort Study

J Am Heart Assoc. 2023 Feb 7;12(3):e027922. doi: 10.1161/JAHA.122.027922. Epub 2023 Feb 3.


Background Because the impact of changes in how outpatient care was delivered during the COVID-19 pandemic is uncertain, we designed this study to examine the frequency and type of outpatient visits between March 1, 2019 to February 29, 2020 (prepandemic) and from March 1, 2020 to February 28, 2021 (pandemic) and specifically compared outcomes after virtual versus in-person outpatient visits during the pandemic. Methods and Results Population-based retrospective cohort study of all 3.8 million adults in Alberta, Canada. We examined all physician visits and 30- and 90-day outcomes, with a focus on those adults with the cardiovascular ambulatory-care sensitive conditions heart failure, hypertension, and diabetes. Our primary outcome was emergency department visit or hospitalization, evaluated using survival analysis accounting for competing risk of death. Although in-person outpatient visits decreased by 38.9% in the year after March 1, 2020 (10 142 184 versus 16 592 599 in the prior year), the introduction of virtual visits (7 152 147; 41.4% of total) meant that total outpatient visits increased by 4.1% in the first year of the pandemic for Albertan adults. Outpatient visit frequency (albeit 41.4% virtual, 58.6% in-person) and prescribing patterns were stable in the first year after pandemic onset for patients with the cardiovascular ambulatory-care sensitive conditions we examined, but laboratory test frequency declined by 20% (serum creatinine) to 47% (glycosylated hemoglobin). In the first year of the pandemic, virtual outpatient visits were associated with fewer subsequent emergency department visits or hospitalizations (compared with in-person visits) for patients with heart failure (adjusted hazard ratio [aHR], 0.90 [95% CI, 0.85-0.96] at 30 days and 0.96 [95% CI, 0.92-1.00] at 90 days), hypertension (aHR, 0.88 [95% CI, 0.85-0.91] and 0.93 [95% CI, 0.91-0.95] at 30 and 90 days), or diabetes (aHR, 0.90 [95% CI, 0.87-0.93] and 0.93 [95% CI, 0.91-0.95] at 30 and 90 days). Conclusions The adoption and rapid uptake of virtual outpatient care during the COVID-19 pandemic did not negatively impact frequency of follow-up, prescribing, or short-term outcomes, and could have potentially positively impacted some of these for adults with heart failure, diabetes, or hypertension in a setting where there was an active reimbursement policy for virtual visits. Given declines in laboratory monitoring and screening activities, further research is needed to evaluate whether long-term outcomes will differ.

Keywords: COVID‐19; cardiovascular; outcomes; virtual care.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alberta / epidemiology
  • COVID-19* / epidemiology
  • Diabetes Mellitus*
  • Heart Failure* / diagnosis
  • Heart Failure* / epidemiology
  • Heart Failure* / therapy
  • Humans
  • Hypertension* / epidemiology
  • Outpatients
  • Pandemics
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Telemedicine* / methods