Providers take steps to ease patient fears, but see restart of elective care taking months

Dive Brief:

  • Executives at health systems and ambulatory surgery centers on average predict it will take about three months for elective procedure volumes to return to pre-COVID-19 pandemic levels, with estimates ranging from two months to six months, according to a new survey from consulting firm Deloitte.
  • Volumes last month fell to about 16% of typical numbers, but nearly 90% of survey respondents said they have started measures to mitigate the main concerns about resuming non-emergency services. The biggest worry among providers is the possibility of an outbreak or second wave, followed by low patient demand and inadequate supplies.
  • A separate patient survey from consultancy BCG found that about 80% of respondents said they expect to reschedule delayed care within six months, but only about half of them plan to get the care within three months.

Dive Insight:

With the majority of states in some form of reopening, many hospitals and medical practices are pivoting from emergency operations status to restarting halted elective procedures. Getting those services up and running again is crucial for providers, who rely on them to drive revenue and have seen volumes and profits plummet in the past two months.

But as the U.S. passed the grim milestone of 100,000 deaths officially tallied from COVID-19 on Wednesday afternoon, it’s clear that the threat from the novel coronavirus is far from over. And with that knowledge, patients in many cases are still leery of returning to their doctor’s office for routine care.

Aware of this, providers have pledged to put in place measures like temperature checks and waiting rooms that allow for social distancing. The BCG survey, however, found some factors affecting patient willingness to reschedule can’t be controlled by providers, including community restrictions.

Deloitte found only 36% of clinicians are currently measuring consumer sentiment. But steps like additional cleaning, training staff on infection control procedures and acquisition of personal protective equipment are common. That survey, conducting in the first two weeks of this month, polled 50 leaders from health systems, hospitals and ambulatory surgical centers.

“[I]f the primary concern is a second wave, health systems are going to have to be extra diligent about testing, social distancing and infection control and this will create additional steps and inefficiencies to get back to full productivity,” Deloitte Principal David Betts wrote in a statement. “This whole process of reopening may be more complicated and take longer than we think.” 

Other surveys have shown patients are likely to reschedule postponed care. Earlier this week, the Kaiser Family Foundation found nearly all those it polled planned to eventually get services they had put off, but only about a third intended to do so within three months.

The BCG survey of about 7,000 patients contacted at the end of April and beginning of this month found people were most likely to get back to office visits, with 84% planning to reschedule, followed by diagnostic testing (81%), outpatient (72%) and inpatient (60%).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *