Healthcare leaders have spoken: Declining hospital revenues, attributable largely to canceled elective procedures during the COVI-19 pandemic, will account for the greatest impact across the industry during the next year, a new survey finds.
Conducted by Definitive Healthcare, the 2020 Healthcare Trends Survey polled more than 2,300 health leaders ranging from pharmaceutical, biotechnology and medical device industries to healthcare IT, consulting, payer, provider organizations and other entities in the U.S. healthcare ecosystem.
The goal was twofold: Determine which trends will have the greatest impact on the industry over the next 12 months, and predict in which areas telehealth will have the greatest staying power.
WHAT'S THE IMPACT?
At 36.5%, respondents saw loss of revenue in hospitals as the most crucial area of change in the year ahead. Many U.S. hospitals have already seen revenues impacted due to delayed or re-prioritized nonemergency medical procedures and elective surgeries.
With about a quarter of the votes, those surveyed saw the implications of delayed care as an important 2020 trend. Fear of the COVID-19 virus has caused many high-risk and chronic disease patients to avoid preventive and critical care, which could result in serious health implications for patients.
Another trend collected 23.2% of the votes – respondents predicted increased usage of telehealth technologies. Already this year, telehealth adoption has increased by 4,000%, with its greatest amount of growth in the Northeast.
A decline in commercial insurance enrollment also made the list. As a result of rising unemployment rates, many Americans lost health insurance coverage through an affected job. As 2020 continues, 10.3% of respondents said that they expect this to continue to be an area of impact.
While still important, only 5.6% of respondents saw the mounting elective surgery backlog as an important trend in the year ahead. During peak COVID-19 months, elective surgeries declined as much as 95%, and, according to the data, cataract and knee-replacement surgeries will be the first to bounce back first as states begin to reopen.
Respondents were also asked about the staying power of telehealth, which has experienced a boom in popularity as the pandemic has driven many to seek virtual care. More than half, 54.9%, indicate that telehealth has the most staying power for routine care for patients with chronic conditions. Because these patients may have comorbidities to their chronic condition, they are likely in higher-risk categories and could benefit from reducing the number of in-person, face-to-face visits.
With 14.6% of votes, respondents indicated that cold, flu and infectious disease screenings are likely to continue in the years to come to prevent infection spread, while 14.4% said mental and behavioral telehealth visits will likely remain an important and convenient tool for both therapists and patients.
During COVID-19, providers have been conducting virtual visits with discharged patients but, with only 7.7% of votes, respondents did not see this telehealth trend as something that will likely continue in a post-COVID-19 landscape. And with just 3.5% of the votes, they didn't see post-surgical care as an area with a great deal of staying power. Postsurgical care may require a more personal touch and careful inspection, relative to other types of provider visits.
THE LARGER TREND
It's hard to overstate the lasting financial impact the coronavirus is likely to have on U.S. hospitals. Kaufman Hall's latest flash report, released Monday, found that hospital operating margins have plunged 96% since the start of 2020, in comparison with the first seven months of 2019, as uncertainty and volatility continue in the wake of the pandemic.
These results do not include federal funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. Even with that aid, however, operating margins are down 28% year-to-year, compared to January through July of 2019.
Telehealth, meanwhile, is becoming a more popular option even for older adults, who tend to be more tech-averse. One in four over 50 had a telehealth visit during the first three months of the pandemic, a big jump from the 4% who had such a visit in 2019.
Comfort levels with telehealth have also increased. Back in 2019, most older adults expressed at least one serious concern about trying a telehealth visit. But by mid-2020, the percentage with such concerns had eased, especially among those who had experienced a virtual visit between March and June of this year.