Six months into the global coronavirus pandemic, health care experts across the US feel much better prepared to handle a potential “second wave” should it occur this fall.
“We’ve evolved. We’re in a much better state now than we were in the beginning of the pandemic,” Michael Calderwood, associate chief quality officer at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, told Healthcare Dive. “There’s been a lot of learning.”
In a survey reported by Healthcare Dive, healthcare executives express fewer concerns about a possible surge in patients when the usual flu season begins this fall than they do about staffing and employee burnout.
Hospital finances are by far a broader concern. When the seriousness of the pandemic became apparent the government ordered a shutdown of all but essential services hitting hospitals hard.
The cancellation of elective procedures and the dramatic reduction in other visits cost hospitals and health systems $200.6 billion, according to the American Hospital Association. That has to at least partially factor into the thinking of the 62% of survey respondents who don’t think a similar response would be appropriate again given what is now known about the virus.
Their worries about patient volumes is well-founded, said Dion Sheidy, a partner and healthcare advisory leader at KPMG.
“While we think demand will come back, we’ve seen some flattening on demand in certain aspects that may be the new indicator of the new norm in terms of how people seek care,” Sheidy said.
The rise of telehealth visits is part of that new norm, embraced by a large majority of the 100 healthcare system executives in the survey. As medical offices and many walk-in clinics closed, Medicare and health insurance providers relaxed policies and expanded their coverage of virtual doctor visits. Telehealth visits surged. Many providers saw a doubling, tripling and more of their pre-shutdown business.
The survey respondents support the regulatory loosening. In the survey, 84% support the ability to offer telehealth services to patients located in their homes and outside of designated rural areas. Previously, many insurers only reimbursed telehealth costs for patients who lived far from a doctor or medical facility.
Almost as many executives (79%) support expanding the services that may be provided by telehealth. Smaller, but still substantial percentages favor expanding the type of practitioners allowed to provide virtual care and provide insurance coverage for devices such as computers and cell phones for telehealth.