May 6, 2022
Hospital volume return remains uneven, while virtual care holds￼
More than two years after the pandemic’s onset, some types of hospital volume still haven’t returned to pre-pandemic levels. The graphic below uses recent data from analytics firm Strata Decision Technology to track monthly hospital volume across various care settings. While outpatient volume continues to exceed pre-COVID levels, inpatient, emergency department (ED), and observation volume is still below the 2019 baseline. The unpredictability of volume trends is likely to continue, as COVID continues to ebb and flow regionally, and care continues to shift outpatient. By contrast, the volume of virtual care visits has remained consistent, even as consumers return to in-person outpatient visits, driving up the overall level above the pre-pandemic baseline. Some of this increase in outpatient visit volume has been driven by consumers turning to urgent care clinics or doctors’ offices—either in-person or virtually—for their lower-acuity care needs. While temporary reimbursement and licensing policies for telehealth have been the main stumbling blocks for many organizations’ longer-term planning for virtual visits, about half of states have now implemented permanent payment parity for telemedicine. As such, provider organizations that are still taking a “wait and see approach” must develop an economically sustainable virtual care model to reduce costs and meet evolving consumer demands.