ER visits lag behind in hospital volume recovery

Dive Brief:

  • Hospital visit volumes were recovering at the end of June from their low in March when most states had stay-at-home orders in place, but emergency visits trailed other areas, according to a TransUnion Healthcare report released Wednesday.
  • ER visits were down 25% compared to pre-COVID-19 levels, according to the survey of more than 500 hospitals across the U.S. that examined data between March 1 and the week of June 21. Inpatient visits dipped 8% for that week compared to before the pandemic and outpatient numbers were down 7%.
  • The research showed a difference for adult and child patients. Adult visit volumes recovered far more quickly than emergency and outpatient pediatric visits, but a bit more slowly for inpatient services, according to the analysis.

Dive Insight:

The most recent data from the report is from before most of the recent surges in the South and West that have seen some hospitals in Texas, Florida and California once again shut down elective procedures to maintain adequate space for COVID-19 patients.

Other reports of hospital volume reaching closer-to-normal levels have surfaced, but those trends could shoot downward again as multiple states report their highest numbers yet of positive cases, hospitalizations and deaths from the novel coronavirus.

More contemporary data back up that likelihood.

The TransUnion report also showed that people were returning to the hospital more for acute diagnoses like throat or chest pain (down 24% from pre-pandemic) than less acute conditions such as coughs and ear pain (down 82% and 40%, respectively).

The more minor conditions are likely being treated in alternate settings like retail clinics or through telemedicine platforms, which have seen a huge jump as relaxed regulations have eased the way for more virtual consultations.

“If this trend continues, it presents an opportunity for providers to engage patients early to help non–emergent patient populations navigate the most efficient and effective care setting,” Jonathan Wiik, principal of healthcare strategy at TransUnion Healthcare, said in a statement. “This has the potential to reduce healthcare costs for all stakeholders.”

Providers have been urging people not to avoid or delay care, pointing to protocols in place to keep patients safe and away from those suspected of having COVID-19. Many offices have redesigned waiting rooms and are handing out masks to visitors.

A group of nearly a dozen healthcare organization last week launched an ad campaign asking people to stop “medical distancing” and schedule appointments as needed. CVS Health on Wednesday began its own campaign to reinforce “the importance of accessing primary health care.” The American Hospital Association posted a similar ad in May.