Hospital Visit Recovery Remains Flat While Popularity of Telehealth Services Grows
New TransUnion Healthcare report finds emergency department visits remain well below pre-COVID-19 volumes
Hospital visit volumes have stayed consistent through late October after plateauing in July, though levels may shift depending on the impact of rising COVID-19 cases nationwide. As hospital visit volumes remain stagnant for the time being, new TransUnion Healthcare (NYSE: TRU) research validates that alternative healthcare settings such as telehealth services are growing in popularity.
TransUnion Healthcare’s updated analysis of 500+ hospitals across the United States revealed emergency department visits were down 26% compared to pre-COVID-19 volumes* – only one-basis point lower than emergency department volumes 10 weeks prior. Inpatient volumes were down 9% below pre-COVID-19 volumes during the week of October 25-31, which is also one-basis point lower than the level recorded in mid-August. Outpatient visits have largely remained around pre-COVID-19 levels.
“Our latest analysis shows hospital visits have flattened, creating a new baseline for volumes that providers will likely continue to experience across treatment settings,” said David Wojczynski, President of TransUnion Healthcare. “The ongoing analysis, paired with new consumer research, point to the likelihood that patients are instead seeking care in alternative settings such as telehealth, or deferring non-COVID-19 related care to avoid COVID-19 transmission. However, with new stay-at-home orders going into effect and elective procedures delayed, we may see volumes fluctuate once again from this newly established baseline.”
There are a number of factors likely contributing to these sustained, lower emergency department volumes such as the continued, dramatic reduction in visits from children and patients with lower-acuity diagnoses (including cough and ear pain), the use of alternative care settings and ongoing care deferrals.
As care deferrals continue, a concern is that patients – especially high-acuity and chronically ill patients – may experience worsening or additional health complications, potentially increasing healthcare costs. At the same time, patients are increasingly utilizing alternative care settings, which are often more effective and efficient care delivery options for non-emergent medical concerns that can lead to reduced healthcare costs for all stakeholders.
Patient preferences indicate telehealth services likely here to stay
A recent TransUnion Healthcare report revealed that one-third (33%) of patients utilized telehealth in the last year, and of those patients, six in 10 (59%) did so because of the pandemic. To better understand the growing trend of telehealth use, in November 2020, TransUnion Healthcare conducted a follow-up survey of 1,375 people who had used telehealth services in the last 12 months.
The majority of telehealth patients surveyed said they used virtual health services in place of visiting their primary care physician office (60%), and an additional 8% of respondents utilized telehealth instead of visiting the emergency department.
Adoption of Telehealth Services Continues to Grow During COVID-19 Pandemic
% of Respondents
Percent of patients that used telehealth instead of visiting their primary care physician office
Percent of patients that used telehealth without considering an in-person healthcare setting
Percent of patients that used telehealth instead of visiting an urgent care facility
Percent of patients that used telehealth instead of visiting the emergency department
Percent of patients that would be at least somewhat likely to continue utilizing telehealth once a COVID-19 vaccine is available and distributed
Percent of patients that shared the quality of care they received via telehealth was the same as or better than in-person medical care
Further, the industry can expect patients to continue using telehealth services even once there is a COVID-19 vaccine available and widely distributed. Over two-thirds (67%) of recent telehealth patients stated they are at least somewhat likely to continue utilizing telehealth services after a COVID-19 vaccine is made available. What’s more, 77% expressed satisfaction with their most recent telehealth visit.
“As COVID-19 fears persist, it’s evident that telehealth services are here to stay,” said Jonathan Wiik, principal of healthcare strategy at TransUnion Healthcare. “Once we get through the on-going waves of COVID cases, we do anticipate some normalization to occur in the future in terms of inpatient, outpatient and emergency department patient visits, though the convenience of telehealth makes this treatment setting a viable option for many people.”
For more information on the impact of COVID-19 on the healthcare industry, as well as additional resources from TransUnion Healthcare, visit transunion.com/healthcare-covid-19.
*TransUnion Healthcare defines pre-COVID-19 volumes as the average weekly visits measured during the first 8 full weeks of the year, from the weeks of January 5-11 through February 23-29.
About TransUnion (NYSE: TRU)
TransUnion is a global information and insights company that makes trust possible in the modern economy. We do this by providing a comprehensive picture of each person so they can be reliably and safely represented in the marketplace. As a result, businesses and consumers can transact with confidence and achieve great things. We call this Information for Good.®
TransUnion Healthcare, a wholly owned subsidiary of TransUnion, makes mutual trust possible between patients, providers, and payers by helping them navigate payment uncertainty. Our Revenue Protection® solutions leverage comprehensive data, accurate insights and industry expertise to engage patients early, ensure earned revenue gets paid and optimize payment strategies. TransUnion Healthcare helps over 1,850 hospitals and 550,000 physicians collectively recover more than $1.2 billion annually in revenue.
A leading presence in more than 30 countries across five continents, TransUnion provides solutions that help create economic opportunity, great experiences and personal empowerment for hundreds of millions of people.