The spread of COVID-19 across the U.S. in early 2020 caused a wave of disruption that brought nearly every industry to a halt. As a result, healthcare providers were strongly encouraged to cease all nonessential care in order to treat an influx of patients with coronavirus.
Now that hospitals in many regions of the country are seeing fewer cases of COVID-19, states are beginning to reopen nonessential businesses, and care facilities can begin to recover and resume regular care activities. Below are three of the most prominent trends we're seeing in hospitals with declining coronavirus cases.
Trend 1: Elective surgeries offer means to hospital financial recovery
As cases of COVID-19 surged in early 2020, many hospitals and other care facilities reduced or eliminated elective procedure offerings to focus on essential care services. Elective procedures dropped between 44 and 73 percent from May 2019 and May 2020 (fig 1) due to the emphasis on essential care. This drop is most prominent in the Northeast U.S., where COVID-19 cases were concentrated.
Comparison of Elective Surgery Claims May 2020 over May 2019
Now that COVID-19 cases have stabilized or dropped in some areas of the country, hospitals across the U.S. are offering elective procedures once again. The Southeastern region of the U.S. has since seen the greatest increase in elective procedure volumes, with nearly 180 percent growth from April to May 2020 (fig 2).
This trend is unsurprising, given that Southeastern and Southern regions reported the smallest decrease in elective procedures to begin with. Elective procedures haven't made as much of a recovery in the Northeastern U.S., with procedure volume rising only 67 percent from April to May 2020.
Increase in Elective Surgery Claims from April 2020 to May 2020
Across the country, elective surgeries are now being prioritized by urgency, followed by volume of backlogged procedures and patient willingness to undergo an elective procedure. Surgical specialties reporting the greatest volume of high-priority procedures include general surgery (i.e. gallbladder and hernia removal), gastroenterology, and orthopedics.
Trend 2: Consequences of postponing essential care
Roughly 60 percent of the U.S. population lives with at least one chronic illness or condition, such as diabetes or heart disease. For many patients, fear of contracting COVID-19 has prevented those with chronic conditions from seeking preventative or regularly scheduled care. However, patients managing chronic illnesses may face higher complication rates—and possibly higher mortality rates—by postponing essential care.
This aversion to hospital visits has led to a decrease in claims related to chronic conditions like breast cancer, diabetes, heart attack, and kidney disease.
Top 10 States by Lowest Changes in Heart Attack Claims in April 2020 Compared to April 2019
Fewer heart attack claims, as seen above, are not necessarily indicative of a decline in actual patient heart attacks. It is more likely that patients experiencing heart attack symptoms avoid seeking care due to fear of visiting a provider while COVID-19 cases are still so high. Many of these patients are already at higher risk of contracting an illness like COVID-19, and may feel safer treating themselves at home.
Physicians and healthcare leaders are still unsure of the negative impacts this could have on patient outcomes.
Trend 3: Rapid mainstream adoption of telemedicine by specialty
Due to patient reluctance to visit physicians in person and the decreased capacity of many hospitals, telehealth services have become more widely available across specialties and locations. Total telehealth claims increased by 1,480 percent year-over-year from March 2019 to March 2020. Even more staggering is the year-over-year telehealth claims increase of 4,545 percent from April 2019 to April 2020.
Telehealth claims year-over-year increase, 2019 to 2020
Telehealth claims volume increased the most in the Northeastern U.S., where the highest volume of COVID-19 cases have been reported—and patients are more likely to avoid in-person hospital visits.
5 Physician specialties with greatest increase in telemedicine demand:
Gastroenterology (198,258 percent)
Rheumatology (144,632 percent)
Immunology (110,670 percent)
Orthopedic surgery (100,773 percent)
Urology (77,550 percent)
Fig 5 Data sourced from Definitive Healthcare's Medical Claims database for April 2019 and April 2020. Accessed June 2020.
Across specialties and regions, about 75 percent of all hospitals report using telemedicine technologies at levels "substantially above" pre-COVID-19 usage, with 90 percent of those believing they will continue using increased telemedicine services in the future.
In this webinar, attendees got a deep dive into the major trends currently emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic—and guidance on how to use this information to partner with providers. Attendees will gain a better understanding of:
Which elective surgeries will restart first
The real financial impact on hospitals by region and how to partner in the recovery
How to identify new opportunities with virtual care and telehealth