October 9, 2020
Approaching a “new normal” for healthcare volumes?
Eight months into COVID-19, national healthcare volumes are still lagging pre-pandemic levels. The graphic below shows highlights from Strata Decision Technology’s recent analysis of volume data from 275 hospitals nationwide between March and August, and reveals that inpatient, and especially emergency department, volumes are still well below 2019 levels. This isn’t surprising. Consumer confidence in healthcare facilities hasn’t changed much since April, with many still reporting feeling unsafe in emergency care and hospital settings. Even some outpatient providers are still seeing lags compared to last year. While outpatient volume as a whole has rebounded, critical outpatient diagnostics, including mammographies and colonoscopies, are still down significantly, leading to reduced downstream oncology and surgical volume as well, at least in the short-term.
COVID-19 is also accelerating the outmigration of high-margin surgical procedures like total knee replacements. Comparing a two-week period in August to the same period last year reveals that inpatient knee procedures are down by nearly 40 percent, while similar outpatient procedures are up over 80 percent. As Strata Executive Director Steve Lefar said in a recent conversation with Gist Healthcare Daily’s Alex Olgin, these data expose “an elasticity of demand the healthcare industry never even knew existed” and that “the demand curve for healthcare services may be permanently adjusted because people are just changing their behaviors.” While we expect volumes will ebb and flow over coming months in step with the local severity of COVID-19, health systems should plan for a longer-term “new normal” with volume below pre-pandemic levels.