For months, elective procedures ranging from cancer surgeries to nose jobs were canceled to make way for COVID-19 patients and to protect hospital staff as well as the general public from further exposure. Now, each health system and hospital across the U.S. are deciding how much it can resume doing, given the pandemic’s enormous drain on recourses and uncertainty.
While many hospitals have taken heavy hits with a surge of virus contracted patients, not all hospitals have seen or been overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients. And many of those have seen patient populations plummet. The halt of elective procedures and surgeries means turning away money and the health care facilities cannot foreseeably sustain this financial loss. It’s a massive revenue shock as hospitals have been seeing anywhere from thirty to forty percent declines in revenue. And while many health systems may be getting more COVID-19 business, they are not benefiting financially.
According to the bond-rating agency Moody’s, surgeries are the highest-grossing, highest revenue-generating thing that hospitals do. Providers may get a bump in COVID patients and extra reimbursement from the government and Medicare, but that doesn’t even compare to the revenue being lost on elective procedures. Providers across the country recognize this and understand that it’s not just about the money, but about being able to help people they know they can help.
The use of technology and telehealth have been quickly set-up throughout the past months to address non-urgent medical issues. But the reality is that not everything can be addressed by telehealth. Many non-essential surgeries have been postponed, but elective procedures such as breast cancer surgery and cataract surgery can’t be put off for too long. So how can hospitals re-open and resume surgeries to ensure patient and staff safety?
According to the CMS administrator Semma Verma, every state and local official will have to assess the situation on the ground. Hospitals need to be able to screen patients and healthcare workers for the virus and make sure that patients feel safe when they come in to seek services by having the appropriate preventative measures in place. This will be a gradual process as healthcare systems across the country decide what services to make available.
Health system executives will need to have a systematic approach to the resumption and increase of elective procedures offered with the guiding principle to protect the public and their staff. Some considerations for health systems to consider are:
Given the unsustainable situation, health systems will need to find innovative ways to regain revenue and get back to safely helping members of the community. The reality is that there will be a “new normal” going forward and health providers and patients will adapt. Providers must regain the trust of their patients and leverage innovative ways to create safer and more consumer-centric initiatives that reward both themselves and the patient.