Spotlight On: Which physician specialities are seeing the largest and smallest declines in patient numbers as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic?

A recent survey of 1587 physicians (from 13 countries, comprising multiple specialties) run by MedeField showed that 56% of respondents had seen their patient load decrease over the previous two weeks in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

See Spotlight On: Physicians encourage pharma to maintain their primary research efforts despite the COVID-19 pandemic for more details.

The obvious issue this raises for the pharmaceutical industry is a potential reduction in the number of patients who are receiving treatment (or having their treatment actively managed) for a given period of time.

Closer inspection of the results reveals that fewer pulmonologists, oncologists, haematologists and endocrinologists experienced a decline in patient load versus other physician specialties.

By comparison, ophthalmologists, urologists and rheumatologists were more likely to see their patient loads decline, the data show.

These trends will require reassessment as the pandemic evolves, though the data support an argument that certain segments of the pharmaceutical market, when cut by therapeutic area, will likely be more insulated from COVID-19 headwinds than others.

Oncology is a case in point despite the requirement for many cancer therapies to be administered in a hospital setting and frequently to immuno-supressed patients, given that these treatments are typically considered more essential than therapeutics for most other diseases.

Oncologists citing a decrease in patient load over the previous two weeks estimated an average decline of 38%, versus an average reduction of 46% from all respondents (regardless of specialty) who said their patient load had decreased over the prior two weeks.

Not only did fewer pulmonologists cite a reduction in patient load compared to other physician specialties, but a higher proportion of pulmonologists said they had experienced an increase in patient numbers over the previous two weeks; possibly reflecting an influx of patients who are at potentially higher risk if they contract COVID-19. 

Notably, however, those pulmonologists who did report a decline in patient load (33% of those polled) said that this decrease had been quite significant, as estimated at an average contraction of more than 50%; suggesting that some patients with respiratory conditions have been going out of their way to avoid healthcare facilities at this time.

Feedback also suggests that the market for ophthalmology treatments could potentially come under some pressure in the coming weeks and months, with data showing that none of the ophthalmologists who were polled (n=44) cited a patient load increase over the prior two-week period.

Furthermore, eight in every 10 ophthalmologists said the number of patients they had seen over the previous two weeks had declined, on average by 62%.

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