COVID-19; pandemic preparedness; coronavirus infections; pandemics; primary care physicians; personal protective equipment; needs assessment; disaster planning


Other Public Health | Primary Care | Virus Diseases


Background: It is critical to ensure that Primary Care Providers (PCPs) have adequate personal protective equipment (PPE), supplies, training, staffing, and contingency planning during pandemics, particularly in rural areas. In March 2020, during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Mountain Area Health Education Center (MAHEC), in collaboration with the Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research at UNC Chapel Hill, rapidly created and conducted a needs assessment of PCPs in western North Carolina (WNC).

Methods: A group of twenty volunteers conducted a telephone survey of PCPs in a 16 county region of WNC. Practices were asked about their COVID-19 testing and telehealth offerings, PPE adequacy, and capacity to continue serving patients. The survey’s emergency alert feature linked practices to immediate support. Descriptive data were generated to identify regional needs.

Results: Out of 110 practices, 48 (43.6%) offered COVID-19 testing, with testing more common in rural counties (56.3% vs 33.9%). Telehealth services, including phone-only visits, were offered by almost all practices (91.8%). PPE needs included N-95 respirators (49.1%), face shields (45.5%), and staff gowns (38.2%). Rural practices were more likely to report the need for PPE. Assistance was requested for staff member childcare (34.5%) and providing or billing for telehealth (31.8%). The most urgent practice requests were related to finances, PPE, and telehealth. MAHEC’s Practice Support team linked practices to virtual coaching, tip sheets, case-based video didactics and communication forums, and newsletters.

Conclusion: During a pandemic, it is crucial to ensure that PCPs can continue to serve their patients. A rapid needs assessment of PCPs can allow for immediate and ongoing support that matches regional and practice-specific needs. Rural practices may require more assistance than their urban counterparts. Our rapid survey process jumpstarted a statewide system for enhanced communications with PCPs to better prepare for future emergencies.