Light at the end of the tunnel.

A recent evaluation of 500 hospitals in the United States shows the volume of hospital visits leveling out below pre-COVID-19 amounts in the latter half of 2020. Experts expect these levels to serve as a new baseline for 2021 hospital visit volumes.

David Wojczynski, President of TransUnion Healthcare said, “The challenges of COVID-19 in 2020 were widespread and hard felt within the healthcare industry, and these impacts are expected to persist well into 2021, particularly from a financial and operational standpoint.”

The analysis showed emergency department and inpatient volumes to be down by 30% and 8%, respectively, in the week of December 13, 2020. Meanwhile, outpatient volumes had increased by 1% in the same week.

“As we consider how patients, providers and payers may be affected by key trends such as healthcare consumerism, insurance disruptions, financial hardship and a new administration in the year ahead, our healthcare utilization analysis can provide helpful insights for organizations as they develop and implement strategies to enable trust with patients and influence profitability,” said Wojczynski.

The Analysis

The study highlighted the hospitals’ year-over-year (YoY) changes in visits. The timelines evaluated were Pre-COVID-19 (1/5/20-2/29/20), COVID-19 Rise (3/1/20-3/14/20), Peak COVID-19 (3/15/20-6/6/20), Levelling Out (6/7/20-6/27/20), and New Baseline (6/28/20-12/19/20). The analysis compared the numbers of each category to the year prior and noted the change in hospital visit volumes. The table below shows the results.

Photo credit: TransUnion

There are variables that will affect 2021 hospital visit volumes. Variables include vaccine distribution, the number of COVID-19 cases, executive orders, and the deferring of elective procedures.

“The management of vaccination distribution at scale will have positive impacts on hospital patient visits in 2021, though long-term recovery won’t occur for some time. Healthcare organizations will need to remain agile and innovative in their patient engagement, care delivery and operational strategies amid the uncertainty ahead,” said Jonathan Wiik, principal of healthcare strategy at TransUnion Healthcare.

Cause For Further Evaluation

While this report labels Peak COVID-19 as 3/15/20-6/6/20, an area of concern is the more recent rise in COVID-19 cases in the United States, shown below. The amount of daily new cases has more than tripled in the past few months compared to the time TransUnion has called Peak COVID-19.

Photo Credit: World-O-Meter

This increase will likely result in even more drastic decreases in the hospital visit volumes for regular patients. The fear of contracting the virus from those exposed and seeking care in the Emergency Department will deter patients with other emergencies, such as broken bones, wounds needing sutures, etc. to seek care elsewhere.

Pradeep K. Banerjee, General Manager of Data-Core Healthcare, explains, “Until such time that the spread of COVID-19 is effectively under control, hospitals will continue to treat fewer regular patients and Emergency Department will keep on seeing COVID cases rather than the true emergencies of other kinds. It is necessary to adjust Revenue Cycle processes to account for these drastic changes in patient volumes, types of treatments and reimbursements of the same. This has been a long, dark tunnel but with the administration of vaccines, a light, however dim, is now visible.”

Data-Core Healthcare provides tools and services to optimize the revenue cycle. Read more about those offerings here.