BACKGROUND: Remote assessment of respiratory tract infections (RTIs) has been a controversial topic during the fast development of private telemedicine providers in Swedish primary health care. The possibility to unburden the traditional care has been put against a questionable quality of care as well as risks of increased utilization and costs. The covid-19 pandemic has contributed to a changed management of patient care to decrease viral spread, with an expected shift in contact types from in-person to remote ones.
OBJECTIVE: The main aim of the present study was to compare health care consumption and type of contacts (in-person or remote) for RTIs before and during the covid-19 pandemic. The second aim was to study whether the number of follow-up contacts after an index contact for RTIs changed during the study period, and whether the number of follow-up contacts differed if the index contact was in-person or remote. A third aim was to study whether the pattern of follow-up contacts differed depending on whether the index contact was with a traditional or a private telemedicine provider.
METHODS: The study design was an observational retrospective analysis with a description of all index contacts and follow-up contacts with physicians in primary care and emergency rooms in a Swedish region (Skåne) for RTIs in patients of all ages and comparison for the same periods in 2018, 2019, and 2020.
RESULTS: Compared to 2018 and 2019, there were fewer index contacts for RTIs per 1000 inhabitants in 2020. By contrast, the number of follow-up contacts, both per 1000 inhabitants and per index contact, was higher in 2020. The composition of both index and follow-up contacts changed as the share of remote contacts, in particular for traditional care providers, increased.
CONCLUSIONS: During the covid-19 pandemic in 2020, fewer index contacts for RTIs but more follow-up contacts were conducted, compared to 2018-2019. The share of both index and follow-up contacts that were conducted remotely increased. Further studies are needed to study the reasons behind the increase in remote contacts, and if it will last after the pandemic, and more clinical guidelines for remote assessments of RTI are warranted.