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medrxiv; 2020.
Preprint in English | medRxiv | ID: ppzbmed-10.1101.2020.10.26.20219352


Objectives: To determine the extent and nature of changes in utilisation of healthcare services during COVID-19 pandemic. Design: Systematic review Eligibility: Eligible studies compared utilisation of services during COVID-19 pandemic to at least one comparable period in prior years. Services included visits, admissions, diagnostics, and therapeutics. Studies were excluded if from single-centres or studied only COVID-19 patients. Data sources: PubMed, Embase, Cochrane COVID-19 Study Register, and pre-prints were searched, without language restrictions, until August 10, using detailed searches with key concepts including COVID-19, health services and impact. Data analysis: Risk of bias was assessed by adapting ROBINS-I and Cochrane Effective Practice and Organization of Care tool. Results were analysed using descriptive statistics, graphical figures, and narrative synthesis. Outcome measures: Primary outcome was change in service utilisation between pre-pandemic and pandemic periods. Secondary outcome was the change in proportions of users of healthcare services with milder or more severe illness (e.g. triage scores). Results: 3097 unique references were identified, and 81 studies across 20 countries included, reporting on >11 million services pre-pandemic and 6.9 million during pandemic. For the primary outcome, there were 143 estimates of changes, with a median 37% reduction in services overall (interquartile range -51% to -20%), comprising median reductions for visits of 42%(-53% to -32%), admissions, 28%(-40% to -17%), diagnostics, 31%(-53% to -24%), and for therapeutics, 30%(-57% to -19%). Among 35 studies reporting secondary outcomes, there were 60 estimates, with 27(45%) reporting larger reductions in utilisation among people with a milder spectrum of illness, and 33 (55%) reporting no change. Conclusions: Healthcare utilisation decreased by about a third during the pandemic, with considerable variation, and with greater reductions among people with less severe illness. While addressing unmet need remains a priority, studies of health impacts of reductions may help health-systems prioritise higher-value care in the post-pandemic recovery. Funding, Study registration: No funding was required. PROSPERO: CRD42020203729