Houston area doctors report large drop in patients due to COVID-19

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the Houston area, Dr. Tom Garcia, who operates a private practice at West Houston Medical Center, has taken a major financial hit.

First, it was the shutdown of elective medical procedures. Now, he's dealing with a reduction in patients coming in because of COVID-19 fears.

"I took an 80 percent cut simply because I was more interested in keeping my office open and my staff on payroll," Garcia said.

According to a recent survey conducted by the Texas Medical Association, more than two-thirds of physicians said their patient volume has reduced to at least 50 percent, and more than half said their revenue has been cut by half or more. Some doctors are even using their own personal funds to keep them from sinking.

"They have been using their own personal charge cards. They're tapping into whatever savings accounts they have to help pay the rent and try to keep all the employees on the payroll," said Dr. Diana Fite, President of the Texas Medical Association.

She worries fear of contracting COVID-19 at the doctor's office isn't just hurting physicians, but patients who are foregoing critical medical care.

"Just the other day, I had a lady come in with severe abdominal pain that has been going on for five days," Fite said. "She had a ruptured appendix, but she was so afraid to come in and afraid of catching coronavirus that she put it off to the point of where she would have to have a major surgery and a long recovery."

She said patients shouldn't fear doctor's offices because of the extra measures taken to ensure safety. One of her biggest concerns is the impact to the healthcare system if the trend continues.

"Some have had to close down, or at least temporarily," Fite said.

For some others, there is hope. For the first time in months, Dr. Tony Popek at Town and Country Family Physicians in Houston said he's seen patient volume increase back to normal levels.

"This last week we've been at almost 100 percent. So my suspicion is that, as we pass this hump of Memorial Day weekend and everybody feels more comfortable engaging publicly with each other, I think it will be pretty good," Popek said.

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