Trends in healthcare utilisation during COVID-19: a longitudinal study from the UK

BMJ Open. 2021 Jul 30;11(7):e048151. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2020-048151.


OBJECTIVE: The first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic had a major impact on healthcare utilisation. The aim of this retrospective review was to quantify how utilisation of non-COVID care changed during this time so as to gain insight and inform planning of future services during potential second and subsequent waves.

METHODS AND ANALYSIS: A longitudinal design was used to analyse anonymous private UK health insurer datasets covering the period of January 2018 to August 2020. Taken as a measure of healthcare utilisation in the UK, incidence rates of claims broken down by service area and condition were calculated alongside overall monthly totals and costs. Pre-COVID-19 years were compared with the current year.

RESULTS: Healthcare utilisation during the first wave of COVID-19 decreased by as much as 70% immediately after lockdown measures were implemented. After 2 months, the trend reversed and claims steadily began to increase, but did not reach rates seen from previous years by the end of August 2020. Assessment by service and diagnostic category showed that most areas, especially those highly reliant on in-person treatment, reflected the same pattern (ie, rapid drop followed by a steady recovery). The provision of mental health services differed from this observed trend, where utilisation increased by 20% during the first wave of COVID-19, in comparison to pre-COVID-19 years. The utilisation of maternity services and the treatment of existing cancers also stayed stable, or increased slightly, during this time.

CONCLUSIONS: Healthcare utilisation in a UK-based privately insured population decreased dramatically during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, being over 70% lower at its height. However, mental health services remained resilient during this time, possibly due to greater virtualisation of diagnostics and care.

PMID:34330859 | DOI:10.1136/bmjopen-2020-048151