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Some Do, Some Don’t: Providers Begin Seeing Signs of Pandemic Recovery

Posted by Mike Rigert on Jun 23, 2021 12:00:34 PM

As COVID vaccination rates continue to climb this summer, we’re starting to see encouraging signs of life as health systems and medical practices rebound from an abysmal 2020. Nearly 44 percent of the nation’s population is fully vaccinated, including more than 51 percent of people ages 12 and up. This may indicate that patients are feeling more comfortable and safer returning to care visits as the COVID crisis in the U.S. subsides.

In a recent MGMA poll, nearly 50 percent of healthcare leaders said their doctors were working more hours on average this year than in 2020. Another 25 percent said physicians were putting in a similar number of hours and nearly the same number said their physicians weren’t working more hours than last year.

The reasons cited for this uptick in physician care hours included: reduced schedules at the height of the pandemic; increased demand in 2021; the optimization of telehealth to see more patients; expanded clinical hours; and staff retirements. Some poll respondents said they had few problems filling schedules and were seeing increased demand on wait lists.

This compares with survey results from earlier this year where hospital and health system administrators expected inpatient admissions, outpatient visits, and surgical volumes to return to baseline in 2021 and forecasted seven to eight percent increases by 2022.

But though some providers are beginning to see improvement, there are still many who are not. Some healthcare leaders in the MGMA poll even confirmed they’re experiencing higher rates of no-shows and late cancellations than before the pandemic. Others mentioned, for example, that parents are still hesitant to bring their children in for visits unless their kids are very sick. In April, 44 percent of healthcare leaders said their practices were still below pre-pandemic levels of visits.

There are many possibilities that might explain why practices and specialty types may not be seeing the recovery they’re hoping for and experiencing high rates of no-shows and late cancellations. They may include but not be limited to the following:

  • Poor communication: Patient satisfaction with providers communication fell seven percent during COVID, mainly due to ineffective and inefficient interaction. Often, providers didn’t have the tools or resources to interact quickly with patients when needed. Eighty-three percent of patients said poor communication was the worst part of the patient experience in 2020.

  • Patient communication preferences evolved during COVID. Patients today want more regular and more automated digital communication that before the pandemic. There is also much greater demand for more convenient and accessible modes of communication, including text messaging. A substantial portion of patients are also more willing to switch providers in order to get the type of more responsive consumer-friendly patient communications like texting that they’re looking for.

  • Emergency appointment workflows implemented for virtual care: In order to quickly stand up telehealth services for patients, many providers created makeshift workflows to deliver virtual care. With the crisis receding, practices now need to consider creating a more long-term, streamlined appointment workflow that supports both virtual and in-person care.

  • Poor appointment workflows continue to be costly. Inefficient and broken appointment workflows are driving those high no-show and late cancellations rates. Most no-show rates average between 10 and 30 percent and can cost a practice anywhere from $150,000 to $300,000 annually per provider. A more refined appointment workflow based on a text-first approach allows providers to connect more effectively across the patient journey. The net result is a reduction in no-shows and greater assurance you're meeting patients where they are.

To help ensure that your provider’s recovery is on the right track in a way that will increase appointment confirmations and fill your schedule, check out the guide, “A Perfect Appointment Workflow: A Path to Improved Patient Outcomes and Increased Revenue.”

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Mike Rigert

Written by Mike Rigert