Overall Hospital Visit Recovery Sluggish Despite Positive Upward Trends in Outpatient Visits
Ongoing TransUnion Healthcare analysis reveals patients may be avoiding care for fear of COVID-19 transmission in hospital settings
Ongoing research from TransUnion Healthcare (NYSE: TRU) indicates overall hospital visit volumes continue to slowly recover, though hospital visit volumes remain well below the numbers observed prior to the pandemic. This sluggish recovery, which saw emergency department and inpatient volume recovery outpaced by outpatient visits, raises concerns that patients who need emergency care may be avoiding hospital settings due to COVID-19 fears.
In fact, an April Gallup Panel survey found 83% of consumers are moderately-to-very concerned about exposure to COVID-19 at a doctor’s office or hospital.
TransUnion Healthcare’s latest analysis reveals outpatient hospital visits bottomed out during the week April 5-11, down 64% from pre-COVID-19 volumes.* Since then, outpatient visits have recovered though they were still down 31% during the week of May 10-16.
When looking at emergency department and inpatient hospital visits, the research shows visits in both treatment settings continue to trend upward, though at a slower rate than outpatient visit volumes. Emergency department visits recovered 22% of lost volume from April 5-11 through May 10-16 and are now down 40%, and inpatient volumes show a 35% return during this time, and are down 20% compared to pre-COVID-19 volumes.
“As many hospitals resume elective procedures, we’re seeing positive signs of recovery for outpatient visit volumes. However, recovery for emergency department and inpatient is lagging, which may indicate that patients are deferring necessary care,” said David Wojczynski, President of TransUnion Healthcare. “These deferrals will have implications for both patients and providers – high-acuity and chronically-ill patients risk waiting too long to seek care, and a continued reduction in visit volumes will further amplify existing financial challenges for hospitals.”
For hospital visits overall (outpatient, emergency department and inpatient settings), the updated analysis of 500+ hospitals across the United States shows 20-40% declines in visit volumes between the weeks of March 1-7 and May 10-16 compared to pre-COVID-19 volumes – an upward trend overall from the 33-62% declines between the weeks of March 1-7 and April 12-18.
One component of the CARES Act provided support for hospitals and health systems through more than $100 billion in Medicare Advance Payments – which is a loan against future Medicare reimbursement. However, the slower recovery illustrated by TransUnion Healthcare’s research shows patient volumes may not be restored to a level that can both sustain operational and clinical functions and repay the aforementioned loans later this year. With this in mind, on-going assessment and development of holistic patient engagement and revenue recovery strategies will be imperative in the coming months.
“Considering the uncertainties ahead, it is more important than ever to thoughtfully re-engage with patients and communicate proactive actions health systems are taking to make sure patients feel confident and safe to seek care in hospital settings,” said Wojczynski.
Re-engagement considerations for providers across generations
In the time since TransUnion Healthcare observed the lowest visit volume levels, Baby Boomers (born between 1944 and 1964) and Silent Generation (born before 1944) continue to lead the way, recovering 50% and 47% of the lost volume respectively, from the weeks of April 5-11 to May 10-16. Millennial (born between 1980 and 1994) and Gen Z (born between 1995 and 2002) hospital visits recovered 44% and 43% of the volume decline during the same timeframe.
“Our ongoing research provides generational insights into the patients that are seeking care in the wake of COVID-19, allowing providers to tailor their re-engagement efforts and build trust with patients,” said James Bohnsack, senior vice president & chief strategy officer of TransUnion Healthcare. “We can expect to see the lingering effects of the pandemic on hospitals and healthcare systems for some time, and these insights are important considerations to keep in mind as providers evaluate options to re-engage patients to ensure they receive necessary care.”
Following are generational trends specific to emergency, outpatient and inpatient treatment settings, as shown by TransUnion Healthcare’s analysis:
- Emergency Department: The latest analysis found older generations are returning to emergency departments more quickly than Millennial and Gen Z patients. Baby Boomers and Silent Generation experienced 31% and 32% recovery of emergency department volumes lost as a result of COVID-19 during the weeks of April 5-11 to May 10-16, whereas Gen Z recovered 25% of lost volume and Millennials saw a 21% recovery of volumes lost.
- Outpatient: Millennial and Gen Z outpatient visit volumes are showing encouraging trends, recovering 55% and 58% of volume lost from April 5-11 through May 10-16, respectively, slightly outpacing older generations. Baby Boomers and Silent Generation visit volumes also continued to rise, recovering 53% and 52% of lost volume respectively.
- Inpatient: From the weeks of April 5-11 through May 10-16, younger generations also drove the positive trends in inpatient visit volumes, with Millennials experiencing a 72% recovery of volumes and Gen Z recovering 56%. Meanwhile, Baby Boomers recovered 32% of lost inpatient volume and Silent Generation saw a 22% recovery of lost volume. It should be noted that Baby Boomers and Silent Generation also experienced the largest decline from March 1-7 and April 5-11 (38% and 41%, respectively), whereas Millennials and Gen Z volumes saw smaller declines (19% and 17%, respectively).
Noting the generational differences in behaviors, providers should consider how these trends impact patient re-engagement efforts. For example, the latest analysis indicates health systems may have greater success scheduling appointments by checking in first with younger generations for both outpatient and inpatient procedures while also ensuring they communicate with all patients who may have deferred necessary care.
“Looking to the months ahead, hospitals and health systems are understandably concerned about restoring volumes. At the same time, patients are looking to their providers for answers during this period of uncertainty,” said Bohnsack. “It is incumbent on the industry to develop holistic strategies in an effort to both communicate guidance and mitigate financial challenges.”
For strategies on how to address financial challenges in the wake of COVID-19 as well as additional information from TransUnion Healthcare on the impact of COVID-19 on the healthcare industry, 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.