Early May 2020 marked a moment in the COVID-19 pandemic when many states began instituting phased reopening procedures to restart their local economies and begin the long process of returning to “normal life.” Now in July 2020, we understand that these reopening procedures have caused some states to see a dramatic surge in new coronavirus cases—with some states like Florida and Arizona reporting record-breaking numbers of new COVID-19 infections.
With some parts of the United States pausing or even reversing their reopening procedures in response to the increase in new COVID-19 cases, many are left wondering what the next few months might hold. This uncertainty is particularly acute for healthcare suppliers—whose business operations and sales strategies have halted or drastically changed course to accommodate a market consumed by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
As the pandemic rages on, healthcare organizations are compelled to confront key questions as they adapt to this new landscape, including:
What does available data indicate about increases in COVID-19 cases?
How likely is it that my organization’s target regions will be impacted by this increase?
What does this mean for my organization’s forecasting, territory planning, and other go-to-market strategies?
What does medical claims data reveal about changes in COVID-19 cases?
Public data sources like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have continuously reported daily increases in new COVID-19 cases in states where May and June reopening procedures progressed very quickly. But due to a lag in data reporting, this information was not reflected in available medical claims data until July.
Analyzing this claims data not only allows us to find out how many claims were submitted in May and June, but also to understand how many patients are being seen for COVID-related issues at any given point. Patient volumes, in this case, represent patient visits and may reflect individual patients who return to the hospital multiple times within the course of a short period—a fact that may not be indicated in other reports of new COVID-19 cases.
COVID-19 case load vs. all patient encounters by U.S. region
Fig 1 Graph created using both publicly reported data from the New York Times about COVID-19 case volumes in the U.S. from March 22 through June 14, 2020 and medical claims data available through Definitive Healthcare’s Medical Claims database. Claims data is sourced from multiple medical claims clearinghouses in the United States and is updated on a monthly basis. Accessed July 2020.
In a regional comparison of COVID-19 cases versus all patient encounters, we see that the trend in total number of patient visits mirrors the total number of reported COVID-19 cases very closely. However, the delay in medical claims reporting means that correlations between patient visits and COVID-19 case volumes may not appear clearly at the time of or immediately following the release of this data.
For instance, northeastern hospitals reported approximately 125,000 new coronavirus cases on or around April 19, 2020. At that same time, however, the total number of patient visits was trending downward—with only about 1,800 patient encounters reported at northeastern hospitals on or around April 19.
Some of the lag that we see in this medical claims data is likely due to the fact that confirmed COVID-19 patients either delay seeking care, or do not require hospitalization until their condition has worsened. Some patients also wait several days to receive positive test results, which can further contribute to delays in data reporting.
In some ways, this lag in claims reporting can actually be considered advantageous for healthcare organizations looking to interpret coming changes in the market, as it presents these organizations with an opportunity to assess trends in the data. As of June 14, 2020, medical claims data indicates that patient visits are trending upwards in all regions of the United States. With this in mind, healthcare organizations can plan to adjust their strategies accordingly until the data reflects a downward trend in patient visits.
Which U.S. regions are reporting the greatest increase in new COVID-19 cases?
The Southwestern United States reported the greatest increase in new coronavirus cases, with a growth rate of 300.85 percent from April to June 2020. The West and Southeast regions reported the second and third highest growth rates, with 113.9 and 107.34 percent increases in new COVID-19 cases from April to June, respectively.
Changes in COVID-19 cases by U.S. region
Fig 2 Graph created using both publicly reported data from the New York Times about COVID-19 case volumes in the U.S. between April and June 2020 and medical claims data available on Definitive Healthcare’s Medical Claims database. Claims data is sourced from multiple medical claims clearinghouses in the United States and is updated on a monthly basis. Accessed July 2020.
The above chart assesses these regional changes in COVID-19 impact not just by the total number of new cases, but also by a metric referred to as the “healthcare rebound.” This metric is calculated by comparing the total number of patient visits in either April or May, in this case, with the patient visits reported in the 30 days leading up to either March 1st or April 1st. The resulting number is reflected as a percentage that represents the rate at which patient visits are increasing in response to new COVID-19 cases.
The regions with the greatest change in total number of new COVID-19 cases between April and June also reported the highest healthcare rebound in May, as many states began to reopen. Though the available medical claims data has not reflected this yet, it’s very likely that regions like the Southwest and Southeast—with healthcare rebounds reported at 76.2 and 72.87 percent in May—are poised to continue on this upward trend both in total number of new cases and reported patient visits.
Which states are seeing the greatest increase in new COVID-19 cases?
Though recent news reports have highlighted states like Florida and Texas for their surge in new coronavirus cases, Arizona actually reported the greatest increase in new COVID-19 infections between April and June 2020. According to the chart below, Arizona saw an increase of 777.93 percent in that three-month period.
Six other states—including South Carolina, North Carolina, Texas, Florida, Arkansas, and Utah—also reported significant increases in new COVID-19 cases between April and June, with an increase of 200 percent or more.
Changes in COVID-19 cases by state
Fig 3 Graph created using both publicly reported data from the New York Times about COVID-19 case volumes in the U.S. between April and June 2020 and medical claims data available on Definitive Healthcare’s Medical Claims database. Claims data is sourced from multiple medical claims clearinghouses in the United States and is updated on a monthly basis. Accessed July 2020.
The trend that we noted earlier with the rate of healthcare rebound is much more pronounced at the state level. For instance, states that reported a healthcare rebound of about 60 percent or higher in April tended to also report a much higher healthcare rebound in May. This suggests that not only are patient visits increasing in these states, but so, too, are the total number of new coronavirus infections.
What does this increase in COVID-19 cases mean for organizational planning?
Healthcare organizations in the midst of building out their territories and forecasting for their next sales quarter are, understandably, finding this difficult to do while COVID-19 cases are rising in certain parts of the country. The question on everyone’s minds now is, “how can we plan for the unpredictable?”
Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to this question. It’s very likely that COVID-19 cases will continue to fluctuate in some parts of the United States for at least the next six months. This means that organizations forming their plans and go-to-market strategies around the current climate will likely need to readjust and change direction as case volumes continue to change.
Flexibility is key in such an uncertain time. Monitoring patient visits and healthcare rebound rates for each state or region can help healthcare organizations gauge trends in these areas and gain a better understanding of what the next few months might hold for certain territories.
Rachel Grande is a communications professional and published author. She holds a master’s degree in Creative Writing from the University of Glasgow, and brings nearly two years of prior experience as ...