Back to Business: Increasing Patient Volume and Revenue Relief with COVID-19 Screening Solutions
When confronted with the following statistics, it’s impossible to overstate the impact COVID-19 has had on elective procedures, ongoing medical care, and hospital patient volumes:
- Hospital visitation volumes dropped by 32%-60% between March 1st and March 29th, compared with pre-COVID-19 volumes. (TransUnion)
- The number of outpatient visits to practices has dropped by 60% since April. (The Riverdale Press)
- Emergency room visits in the U.S. fell by more than 40% in April. (CDC)
- The average number of weekly ER visits was 1.2 million between March 29th and April 25th, a 42% decline from the 2.1 million visits seen during the same period last year. (Becker’s Hospital Review)
These figures paint a sobering picture and reflect the indirect, often overlooked repercussions this pandemic is having on healthcare organizations and the patients they serve. In a survey conducted by TransUnion Healthcare in April, about one in four patients surveyed (27%) said they had an elective surgery, appointment or procedure delayed or canceled due to COVID-19.
Of the patients who had an elective procedure deferred, nearly 50% indicated they will only reschedule once they no longer believe there is a high risk of COVID-19 infection or once guidelines advise it is safe.
Mandatory or self-imposed, these deferments of treatment have been a source of discomfort for some and, sadly, of lethal outcomes to others.
Take heart disease, for example. A comprehensive analysis by the Washington Post suggests that the postponement or cancelation of heart disease procedures has led to irregular spikes in mortality. In the five hardest-hit states (Illinois, New York, New Jersey, Michigan, and Massachusetts), there were 8,300 more deaths from heart problems than would have been typical in March, April, and May — an increase of roughly 27% over historical averages.
Alongside the evident toll on human life, the economic hit on the healthcare sector is almost hard to grasp. In April, the American Hospital Association estimated that hospitals were bleeding more than $50 billion per month. In a candid interview with CNBC, Dr. Bob Watcher, Chairman of the Department of Medicine at UC San Francisco, admitted that he expects that UCSF’s hospitals will lose $600-$700million this year alone. According to Nathan Kaufman, a strategic advisor to hospitals, emergency room visits have plummeted. Kaufman notes that hospitals had their “worst month ever” for operating margins in April, adding that “indirectly, these emergency room visits impact about 40% of the non-COVID-19 revenue of a hospital.”
The Road to Recovery
As the initial shock begins to wane, and the pandemic transforms from a cataclysmic event into a constant reality, patients are trickling back into hospitals. According to Epic, screening tests for breast, colon, and cervical cancer, which plunged by 80–94% early in the pandemic, were running just 20–30% below normal as of mid-June. A report by the Commonwealth Fund found that visits to physicians’ offices, which declined 60% from mid-March to mid-April, are now running 20–30% below pre-pandemic levels. Chris Mast, Vice President of Clinical Informatics at Epic, estimates that hospital volume based on revenue is back to 80–90%.
This is all, of course, fantastic news for patients and practitioners alike, but the hard-learned lessons of the last few months are still fresh-in-mind, and any return to service must be executed with surgical attention to safety and best practices to avoid a costly relapse.
To that end, some of the country’s most prestigious healthcare associations recently released their road maps for a return to routine care. A joint statement by the American College of Surgeons, American Society of Anesthesiologists, Association of periOperative Registered Nurses, and the American Hospital Association, in April, charted the steps to resume elective surgery, while AAMC released its own set of critical recommendations last week.
In both documents, one of the most crucial steps outlined for any restart plan is an intensive, laser-focused screening process of employees, patients, and visitors, with AAMC even going as far as urging all organizations to ‘screen almost everyone, a lot.’ Using UCLA Health as a case study, they’ve asked Chief Medical and Quality Officer Dr. Robert Cherry to share his medical center’s scrupulous screening procedure:
"UCLA Health's screening process includes posting staff at each entrance to ask everyone entering the hospital about possible symptoms and take their temperature before allowing them in. Hospital staff can start their own screening process before they come to work by tapping into a smartphone app to answer questions about their health conditions. Those who might have coronavirus symptoms are steered to a call center for further assessment and determination of next steps."
Although the process described by Dr. Cherry may seem complex, expensive, or unfeasible, with the right tools, it can be achieved with ease.
A Solution with Safety and Speed in Mind
In tune with healthcare’s current needs, we’ve developed a HIPAA-compliant 3-in-1 screening solution using AI to automatically engage with and screen visitors, patients, and employees for COVID-19 while coordinating next steps based on their results.
For all users, we’re able to proactively reach out over SMS based on preconfigured triggers from healthcare providers, or field inbound screening requests through our web-based virtual assistant. While the process is handled end-to-end by AI, providers can use our dashboard to manually manage and monitor activity for maximum visibility. Here’s a deeper look at the five-step screening flow for all patients, visitors and employees entering the medical facility:
Drawing from our experience creating COVID-19 virtual assistants for the nation’s top healthcare organizations, we understand the shifting dynamics that come with combatting a pandemic. We’ve designed this solution to be highly flexible, integrable, and customizable for any providers’ unique needs and priorities. No matter the number of beds, employees, or patients, the screening tool scales to any size, so that healthcare organizations can fully get back to business.
As always, we remain committed to innovating and crafting solutions for today’s healthcare, through the lens of tomorrow’s problems.