Healthcare Industry: Very Helpful and Very Hard Hit
For the healthcare industry, the challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic won’t fade away so quickly. Burnout in the workforce displaced health professionals, and hospital closures will remain as residual problems confronting the United States healthcare system in the aftermath.
To consider private practices and hospitals closing, reduced hours, furloughs, and layoffs of healthcare professionals amid the COVID-19 pandemic may seem unimaginable. Yet it is happening across America daily. And in its wake is the gnawing question, “How will this impact the future of healthcare in our country?”
How Do We Explain this Apparent Paradox?
Becker’s Hospital CFO Report indicated that more than 120 hospitals across the country had furloughed workers, and the number is growing every day. According to Bita Kash, Ph.D., MBA, FACHE, professor at the Texas A&M School of Public Health and joint associate professor in the Department of Internal Medicine at the Texas A&M College of Medicine, there are two primary factors:
“First, hospitals and clinics are experiencing a reduction of in-person clinic visits due to social distancing. But the major factor affecting their bottom line is the halt on elective procedures and surgeries to prepare for COVID-19 patient loads. Surgeries have been reduced by approximately 50 percent nationwide.”
“Hospital revenues from elective procedures and surgeries are higher than revenue from the emergency rooms and intensive care units,” Kash said. “On average, hospitals are losing $3,000 per COVID-19 patient due to length of stay and resource intensity. And even with the government hospital stimulus fund to increase reimbursement for COVID-19 admissions, hospitals will lose over $1,000 per COVID-19 patient.”
The Impact on Healthcare Professionals
Some of the physicians and nurses who have been furloughed or released are being redeployed to emergency departments. But as “physicians and nurses who have not been trained or practiced emergency medicine and intensive care in years are now being deployed to COVID-19 units, there are new malpractice issues, the scope of practice concerns and personal protection equipment shortages, adding to the risk these physicians and nurses undertake to take care of COVID-19 patients,” Kash said.
And while most primary care and specialist physicians are adopting telehealth as a substitute for in-person clinic visits during this pandemic, this isn’t helping the bottom line either. While certainly a great alternative that facilitates continuity of care for patients, insurance reimbursement rates for telehealth are less than in-person visits.
What are the Long-Term Issues to Consider?
As we begin to recover from the pandemic, Kash sees two major issues the healthcare system will face: health workforce shortages and even more rural hospital closures. “Many nurses and physicians are experiencing heightened levels of burnout due to the COVID-19 experience, and many of them are expected to retire early or look for alternative work settings after all this is over,” she said.
The most substantial financial impact of the pandemic will probably be felt by the rural hospital systems, which even before the pandemic had been closing at devastating rates for over a decade. Kash says a government stimulus package for rural hospitals is the only way to save this critical safety net for rural communities and avoid a medical nightmare.
Changes that are Likely In-Store for us
1. Innovative Strategies for Elective Surgeries
Before elective surgeries and procedures can return to normal, patients will need reassurance that it’s safe to enter hospitals and other healthcare facilities. “We see some health systems doing branding initiatives to be transparent about what they are doing to make things safe.
Health systems are also recognizing that patients may not want to get surgery in a hospital, and some organizations are providing patients the option to have their surgery in ambulatory surgery centers,” said Neil Patel, president of Healthbox.
2. Converting to Local Supply Chain Sources
The pandemic has exposed critical flaws in the supply chains that hospitals rely upon for vital equipment, like PPE (Personal Protective Equipment). Many health systems struggled with shortages and often competed with each other for necessary supplies. To solve this problem, hospitals will need to collaborate on obtaining equipment and supplies and convert to local supply chains to the degree possible.
3. Acceleration of Digital Health Alternatives
Patel noted, “During the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare providers had to pivot to technology to quickly take care of patients. Digital health has gone from a ‘nice to have’ to a must-have. Innovations in the area of at-home diagnostic equipment will enhance providers’ ability to do remote virtual care.”
Help Your Students Cope with the Crisis
The response to the COVID-19 Pandemic is unprecedented. Because of our unique role in children’s K-12 education including online speech therapy, we feel a responsibility to do what we can to assist schools, therapists, and students with this transition to online learning and seclusion. To ensure that our students remain engaged and supported, our therapists are providing complimentary “Support Sessions” to the country’s youth. We are also assisting schools by training their therapists for remote therapy.