However, there is some good news – patient volume appears to have rebounded.
When we look at procedure claims for screenings for malignant neoplasms (i.e., cancerous tumors), claims volume for the last four months of 2020 was at or about 100% of the 2019 volume for the same period. And in March 2021, claims volume was 103% of the March 2019 volumes, indicating more patients are returning to seek screenings for postponed care.
Our claims data indicates a similar trend when it comes to diabetes screenings. According to our claims data, encounters for diabetes screenings from September-December 2020 were more than 100% of 2019 volumes during the same period. Volumes for February and March 2021 also surpassed 100% of the 2019 volume.
We'll be keeping a closer eye on this trend in the second half of 2021 to see how volumes rebound as more of the population becomes vaccinated.
Trend 3: The decline in birth rates
One of the more surprising trends to emerge recently is the decline in the U.S. birth rate. According to data from our medical claims database, diagnoses claims for pregnancy are down 145% from 2016 to 2020.
The decline in birth rates, however, cannot entirely be blamed on the COVID-19 pandemic. Our data indicates that procedure claims for pregnancy have been declining since 2018. This appears to be a much larger trend with multiple factors coming into play.
It will be interesting to keep an eye on if birth rates will continue to decline or rebound in the coming years.
Not only have we seen an increase in the diagnoses for anxiety and depression, but diagnoses for reaction to severe stress and adjustment disorders were up 13% from 2019 to 2020. Despite this, overall claims for mental health-related drug classes appear to have decreased from 2019 to 2020.
It's not surprising that a once-in-a-lifetime global pandemic impacted the mental health of so many people. But, as we come off the heels of Mental Health Awareness Month, it's reassuring to see people seeking care, especially considering how long society stigmatized people with mental health disorders.
Trend 5: The shift in care locations
Another interesting shift we are seeing is where patients are seeking out care. COVID-19 doesn't appear to be entirely to blame for this. Healthcare was already trying to move certain types of care outside the hospital's four walls when the pandemic hit.
We've seen a slow but steady decline in hospitals' share of total diagnosis and procedure claims since 2016. On the flip side, we've seen the share of total claims for physician groups increase during that same timeframe.
Fig 1 - Graph representing the change in the share of the total diagnosis and procedure claims by facility type between 2016-2021. Data provided by Definitive Healthcare's medical claims database; accessed May 2021.
Now, as things begin to reopen, all eyes turn to the future of telehealth and its potential legacy. As of now, the weekly telehealth visit volume has only dropped slightly – down to 1.48 million in 2021 through April compared to a weekly average of 1.49 million in 2020.
Remote patient monitoring (RPM) also became a necessity during the pandemic. By leveraging RPM tools, providers could safely monitor patients with chronic conditions and treat patients at home to limit their exposure to COVID-19 and not overwhelm the health system.
When looking at procedure claims data for RPM, we saw an increase of over 450% compared to 2019 and 2020. Much like with telehealth, it will be interesting to see if RPM continues to keep up its volume and gain popularity post-pandemic.
Trend 8: Provider burnout and staffing
COVID-19 placed considerable strain on healthcare providers, nurses, and caregivers and exacerbated issues with burnout. According to a survey on provider burnout conducted by Medscape, 42% of providers say they are experiencing burnout – and that number jumps up to over 50% when you look at certain specialties like critical care physicians or by gender.
One factor that contributes to physician burnout is feeling overworked. According to Definitive Healthcare's physician data, physical medicine and rehabilitation providers, hospitalists, and internal medicine providers had the highest inpatient workloads in 2019 and 2020 based on providers' average number of claims across specialties. Meanwhile, oncologists and hematologists ranked the highest for outpatient claims per physician for the last three years.
However, we know demand has built up over the many months of the pandemic. Providers will need to work above capacity to meet pent-up demand while balancing the new patients who also need these elective procedures.
Trend 10: The impact of COVID-19 on obesity
Feel like you put on the “quarantine 15” during the COVID-19 lockdowns? You’re not alone. In fact, a recent survey from the American Psychological Association found that 61% of adults reported experiencing undesired weight changes since the start of the pandemic.
Medical claims data shows that obesity rates have slowly started to climb in 2021 as well. When looking at data from Q1 2021, there were an average of 2.12 million overweight and obesity diagnoses claims a month, up from an average of 1.98 million in 2020 and 2.06 million a month in 2019.
As obesity diagnoses have gone up, we’re seeing a similar pattern for patients seeking medical nutrition therapy and behavioral counseling for obesity. Average monthly procedure claims from January through March 2021 are up over 2% compared to 2019.
Weight gain is totally understandable given the stress from the pandemic and changes the lockdowns wrought on our lifestyles and activity levels.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Danielle Johns is a healthcare communications and PR professional. At Definitive Healthcare, she serves as the Public Relations/Analyst Relations Manager and loves finding compelling and newsworthy ...