BMC Health Serv Res. 2022 Feb 26;22(1):263. doi: 10.1186/s12913-022-07634-x.
BACKGROUND: The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged the ability of healthcare systems to ensure the continuity of health services for patients with non-communicable diseases (NCDs). The issue of remote consultations has emerged. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, remote consultations were not routinely provided or covered by public health funding in Latvia. This study aimed to describe the dynamics of consultations and the volume of remote consultations provided for patients with particular NCD and explore clinicians’ experiences of providing remote consultations during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in Latvia.
METHODS: A mixed-method study focusing on the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in Latvia in Spring 2020 was conducted. Quantitative data from the National Health Services were analysed to assess the dynamics of consultations for patients with selected NCDs. Qualitative data were collected through 34 semi-structured interviews with general practitioners (GPs) and specialists and were analysed using an inductive thematic analysis. Purposive maximum variation sampling was used for participant selection.
RESULTS: During the period with the strongest restrictions of scheduled on-site consultations, a decrease in the total number of consultations was observed for a variety of NCDs. A significant proportion of consultations in this period were provided remotely. GPs provided approximately one-third of cancer-related consultations and almost half of consultations for the other selected conditions remotely. Among specialists, endocrinologists had the highest proportion of remote consultations (up to 72.0%), while urologists had the lowest (16.4%). Thematic analysis of the semi-structured interviews revealed five themes: 1) Adjusting in a time of confusion and fear, 2) Remote consultations: safety versus availability, 3) Sacrifice and loss of privacy, 4) Advantages and disadvantages of communication technologies, and 5) Different form of communication and a health literacy challenge.
CONCLUSIONS: During the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in Latvia, disruptions to health care services decreased the total number of consultations for patients with NCDs provided by both GPs and specialists. In this period, remote consultations proved to be an important instrument for ensuring the continuity of health care for patients with NCDs, and the necessity to develop a well-designed system for telemedicine in Latvia was highlighted.