However, we expect several variables to prevent a complete volume recovery by the end of the year. Surges in Covid-19 hospitalization could require temporary reductions or suspensions of elective procedures. Continued case growth could prolong consumer fears of accessing health care, resulting in care delays or avoidance. Unemployment and insurance coverage disruptions will dampen health care utilization and spending.
Given this continued uncertainty, hospitals and health systems are focused on a range of ideas to ensure as much near-term volume as possible. I've compiled eight tactics below from our recent member conversations:
- Expand capacity at the top of the funnel
Ramping up outpatient services after a long pause will be critical to overall volume stabilization. Create extra appointment space for services such as cancer screenings and medical specialist visits.
- Overcommunicate with referring physicians
Provide physicians with talking points to reassure patients that procedures are safe; include information on new policies and procedures for patient arrival, registration, waiting rooms, screenings, testing, parking, and visitation. Use physician liaisons to understand and respond to new needs as they emerge.
- Use (and advertise) non-Covid-19 care zones
Designating Covid-free spaces can help organizations address the fear factor with patients. Services such as obstetrics practices and EDs are creating separate spaces for Covid-19-positive patients. Use virtual waiting rooms for ambulatory care sites to demonstrate commitment to social distancing.
- Communicate the risks of care avoidance
Utilization data suggest that many are still delaying care despite urgent symptoms. Create targeted messages for MI, stroke, and chronic conditions.
- Accelerate your outpatient shift
Outpatient procedural capacity will likely remain online even with another surge (as long as the PPE holds up). Most organizations have more opportunity to shift GI, orthopedics, vascular, and general surgery cases outpatient.
- Ensure contact points can simplify the new Covid-19 complexity
Patients will have many questions about how to most safely access your system, and the introduction of more telehealth options adds an additional layer of choice. Patient call centers, virtual triage services, centralized scheduling, and other services will need to connect with each other, and staff will require continuous coaching to navigate patients successfully.
- Bolster virtual outreach and screening
Many health systems have outreach programs that bring specialists to underserved communities in secondary and tertiary service areas. As consumer acceptance of telehealth grows, organizations could see improved utilization of virtual outreach services.
- Monitor your competitor's access
Many organizations are taking the opportunity to rethink their service footprints. Your competitor's or partner's service consolidation can present opportunities for you to fill gaps.
Slide deck: Our 2020 hospital demand outlook—updated for Covid-19
Last week we discussed the current state of hospital volumes and our volume outlook for the rest of the year across two possible scenarios: the gradual decline of Covid-19 cases nationally (with some markets experiencing spikes in new cases across the year) and another second wave of Covid-19 infections in the fall.