The unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic has upended 2019 business plans and projections for 2020. This piece highlights the top six healthcare trends that have emerged since the crisis started, affecting insurers, physicians, hospitals and consumers. It is imperative to study these trends to get a step ahead of the pandemic and to learn how to best serve consumers.
1. Outpatient visits down
According to a recent study by the Commonwealth Fund, outpatient visits have plummeted since March, even as the use of telemedicine has made up some of these visits. Outpatient visits declined by 57% between March 1 and March 29 with difference in rates for certain specialties and geographic regions. As of April 12, however, visits were down 54%, showing a potential retreat. Due to social distancing guidelines, patients have been refraining from receiving treatment.
2. Elective treatment down
Health systems and hospitals nationwide have halted elective procedures to prioritize resources for COVID-19 patients, leading to drops in quarterly earning reports, job losses and pay cuts. Due to pressure from physician lobbies on the federal government, some health systems expect elective procedures to resume soon.
3. Telehealth up
Given social distancing guidelines discouraging outpatient visits, telehealth has exploded. According to new physician data, nearly half (48%) of U.S. doctors are treating patients through telemedicine. Signs show telehealth will remain even as the pandemic ends; 32% doctors said they will change practice settings with the use of telemedicine. Major insurers have reported expecting to see continued growth of telehealth usage, especially with mental health treatment.
Patients seem to appreciate the ease of telehealth, too. One health system went from conducting just dozens of telemedicine per week before the pandemic to scheduling over 500 sessions a day.
4. Utilization down
As fewer consumers are seeking outpatient visits and elective treatment due to social distancing guidelines, utilization rates have plummeted. Insurers are reporting they have largely not spent as much as they normally would on members in March and April. This may also be true in May. This depressed utilization helps insurer profits, which is why, despite the pandemic, major insurers are reporting to be hopeful for this year’s earnings.
5. Need for mental health treatment up
The pandemic and its economic consequences have negatively affected many people’s mental health. According to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation, 45% of adults in the U.S. in the United States have reported that their mental health has been negatively impacted due to stress from the virus. A federal emergency hotline for people in emotional distress saw a more than 1,000% increase in April compared to that time last year.
Health systems, physicians and insurers should prepare for increased mental health treatment, if they have not already. Fortunately, telehealth is excellent tool to meet this demand.
6. Medicaid and exchange enrollment up
Due to millions of Americans being laid off or furloughed from the economic outfall of the virus, insurers are preparing for an unprecedented shift away from commercial membership and a marked increased in Medicaid and Affordable Care Act (ACA) exchange enrollment. One insurer expects 40% to 50% of those who lose job-based coverage to move to Medicaid and 30% to ACA exchanges. Another insurer said they already saw 30,000 more Medicaid members in April from the same period last year.