How primary healthcare in Iceland swiftly changed its strategy in response to the COVID-19 pandemic
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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Original versionBMJ Open. 2020, 10 . 10.1136/bmjopen-2020-043151
Objective To describe how the primary healthcare (PHC) in Iceland changed its strategy to handle the COVID-19 pandemic. Design Descriptive observational study. Setting Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland. Population The Reykjavik area has a total of 233 000 inhabitants. Main outcome measures The number and the mode of consultations carried out. Drug prescriptions and changes in the 10 most common diagnoses made in PHC. Laboratory tests including COVID-19 tests. Average numbers in March and April 2020 compared with the same months in 2018 and 2019. Results Pragmatic strategies and new tasks were rapidly applied to the clinical work to meet the foreseen healthcare needs caused by the pandemic. The number of daytime consultations increased by 35% or from 780 to 1051/1000 inhabitants (p<0.001) during the study period. Telephone and web-based consultations increased by 127% (p<0.001). The same tendency was observed in out-of-hours services. The number of consultations in maternity and well-child care decreased only by 4% (p=0.003). Changes were seen in the 10 most common diagnoses. Most noteworthy, apart from a high number of COVID-19 suspected disease, was that immunisation, depression, hypothyroidism and lumbago were not among the top 10 diagnoses during the epidemic period. The number of drug prescriptions increased by 10.3% (from 494 to 545 per 1000 inhabitants, p<0.001). The number of prescriptions from telephone and web-based consultations rose by 55.6%. No changes were observed in antibiotics prescriptions. Conclusions As the first point of contact in the COVID-19 pandemic, the PHC in Iceland managed to change its strategy swiftly while preserving traditional maternity and well-child care, indicating a very solid PHC with substantial flexibility in its organisation.