Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Primary Care Practices

A doctor takes a patient's blood pressure during an office visit.

Research highlights the need to strengthen primary care as the COVID-19 pandemic enters its second year.



The Issue

Primary care physicians (PCPs), nurse practitioners, and physician assistants are often the first health care professionals that patients encounter when facing illness or injury, deliver the majority of preventive and chronic disease services, and, particularly in rural and underserved areas, serve as experts and community leaders on a wide range of health care issues. As such, these clinicians have had a front row seat on the ravages of the virus that causes COVID-19.

Key Findings

Researchers examines how policymakers can learn from primary care providers’ experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic to better support community-based health providers.

  • The decisions by private insurers and the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services to increase reimbursement rates for telehealth services and the CARES Act’s Paycheck Protection Program were widely cited by physicians as pivotal for enabling them to retain staff and remain open.

  • The federal Provider Relief Fund did little to help independent primary care practices as a majority of those dollars were directed to hospitals and large health systems.

  • Access to personal protective equipment has been a continual challenge for primary care providers, along with clinical hurdles associated with COVID-19 testing and the need to dispel unproven or debunked treatments among their patients.  

  • Physicians report that anxiety, burnout, and depression continue to negatively impact many primary care practices.


Better-targeted federal relief funds, help obtaining personal protective equipment, and continued support for telemedicine should be top priorities to keep primary care providers financially solvent and open to their communities.

About the Urban Institute

The nonprofit Urban Institute is dedicated to elevating the debate on social and economic policy. For nearly five decades, Urban scholars have conducted research and offered evidence-based solutions that improve lives and strengthen communities across a rapidly urbanizing world. Their objective research helps expand opportunities for all, reduce hardship among the most vulnerable, and strengthen the effectiveness of the public sector. Visit the Urban Institute’s Health Policy Center for more information specific to its staff and its recent research.