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Emergency visits still down but slowly moving to pre-COVID levels

by John R. Fischer, Senior Reporter | July 20, 2020
Emergency Medicine

Looking at specific treatment settings, they found outpatient visit volumes to be down 7% during the week of June 21 – 27, having recovered 88% of volume lost since April 5 – 11, when volumes reached their lowest. For inpatient settings, visits were up by 75% since then and were 8% below pre-COVID-19 volumes. ED visits recovered 51% and were down 25%.

Visits by adults were higher than those of children in ED facilities, down 16% and 59% during the week of June 21 – 27, respectively. The same trend was seen in outpatient practices, with rates down by 5% and 34%. Visits from children at inpatient practices were slightly higher than those of adults, by 6% compared to 9%.

The cost of care in EDs is typically more expensive than that of medical clinics or telehealth alternatives. Anyone who shows up at an ED must be stabilized under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act regardless of whether they can pay or are covered under health insurance. This leads patients to receive treatments at one of the most expensive care sites in the U.S. healthcare system, even when their illness does not require it and often without a choice to go somewhere else after they arrive, says Wiik in his book.

In addition to contributing to greater costs for patients, these visits lead to overutilization of the ED, which, in turn, creates care delivery and affordability challenges and racks up almost $382 billion in wasted spending annually, according to a report by UnitedHealth Group.

Wiik, whose book offers strategies to all stakeholders and particularly healthcare providers for protecting their revenue and creating frictionless, positive patient experiences, says the industry needs a holistic, long-term strategy to curb healthcare costs.

"As potential shifts take place in healthcare settings, hospitals should focus on proactive engagement of patients in pre-service estimates and flexible payment options," he said. "Further, best-in-class financial clearance [options] are all must-haves in the post COVID-19 era."

TransUnion Healthcare defines pre-COVID-19 volumes as the average weekly visits measured during the first eight full weeks of the year, from the weeks of January 5 – 11 through February 23 – 29.

Healthcare Evolution: Helping Providers Get Paid in an Era of Uncertainty is now available to read.

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