News: Insight on deferred care as hospital visit volumes predicated to stay low in 2021

CDI Strategies - Volume 15, Issue 5

Telemedicine use by patient condition and medical specialty during the early phases of the COVID-19 pandemic may shed light on deferred care, reported HealthLeaders Media.

At the beginning of the pandemic, telemedicine surged as clinicians turned to the technology to see patients safely. Despite the uptick, overall medical visits dropped substantially, raising concerns about patients deferring care, according to  Health Affairs research, HealthLeaders Media reported.

Additional analysis from TransUnion Healthcare found hospital visits fell to below pre-COVID-19 levels in the last 25 weeks of 2020 and will likely stay that way throughout 2021. In reviewing data from more than 500 hospitals across the United States during the week of December 13, 2020, researchers found that:

  • ED visits were down 30%
  • Inpatient volumes were down 8%
  • Outpatient volumes were up 1% 

The new analysis also looked at year-over-year changes in hospital visits by treatment setting and found:

  • Outpatient visits were up 5% year-over-year from the weeks of June 28-July 4 through December 13-19 but still slightly below the gains experienced pre-COVID-19
  • ED volumes were down 22% year-over-year
  • Inpatient volumes were down 7% year-over-year

The Health Affairs study also found 30.1% of total outpatient visits were provided through telemedicine during the COVID-19 period, which amounted to a 23-fold increase in telemedicine use over the pre-COVID-19 period. Yet, despite the increase overall outpatient visit volume fell 35.0%. Healthcare providers could use the findings to target areas with the highest rates of deferred care, the study's co-authors wrote.

"Health systems could allocate resources to patient outreach efforts such as telephone calls or reminder messages, prioritizing patients whose conditions saw the largest drop in visit volume. Furthermore, additional clinical capacity could be allocated to specialties with the largest backlogs of deferred care. Finally, health systems could prioritize chronic illness populations, who were more likely to have deferred care, for targeted population management," they wrote.

Editor’s note: The above article was adapted by two articles published by HealthLeaders Media which can be found here and here.

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