Care specialties most affected by COVID-19 revealed
Tuesday, June 16, 2020
As COVID-19 continues to ravage the U.S. healthcare system, reaching its viral hands into nearly every specialty, some are reeling more than others, a new study points out.
The study, published in mid-June by FAIR Health, estimates the drop in healthcare utilization for nonhospital providers. As expected, elective procedures have cratered. To that end, oral surgery experienced the most significant reduction in usage in March 2020, declining 80% compared to a similar period in 2019.
Gastroenterology was the second largest decline, with a 73% drop in March and a 77% decline in April.
Cardiology and dermatology specialties also saw an extreme drop in utilization of 62% in March 2020.
Orthopedics utilization declined by 58% in March and 65% in April compared to similar periods in 2019. Pediatric primary care physicians experienced the lowest drop in usage, with 52% in March, and had a 32% decline in revenue.
Primary care also experienced a drop of at least 50% in revenue, the study showed.
Financially, healthcare has struggled mightily in the wake of the coronavirus and its ensuing economic shutdown. Along with the near ceasing of elective surgeries, patients were (and some remain) hesitant to go to their doctor’s office out of fear they may become infected with the virus.
Nationally, from March 2019 to March 2020, the use of professional services fell 65%, and revenue fell by 45%. From April 2019 to April 2020, the drop in utilization was 68% and revenue loss was 48%.
The Northeast United States experienced the most decline in healthcare utilization, with a 60% drop and a revenue loss of 55%. April utilization fell by 80% compared with April 2019, leading to a 79% drop in revenue. The healthcare economy's flatline in the region is the result of New York and other major cities in the region experiencing significant outbreaks of the virus.
Evaluation and management visits became more common than other procedures because many of these services can be rendered by telehealth, which is having a long-overdue moment after languishing on the sidelines for years.
FAIR Health also reports that telehealth claims increased 4,347% nationally from March 2019 to March 2020. This is a growth of 0.17% of medical claim lines to 7.52% during that time.
The data excludes Medicare and Medicaid. The increase in utilization was higher in the Northeast. Telehealth claim lines grew 15,503% in the Northeast, from 0.07% of medical claim lines in March 2019 to 11.07% a year later.
Telehealth, as the name suggests, allows for the provision of care without in-person contact. This reduces the likelihood of disease transmission and frees up in-person resources for COVID-19 patients.
In March, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), allowed for more than 80 additional services furnished via telehealth, and providers could bill for telehealth visits at the same rate as in-person visits.
Most of the waivers expire when the pandemic expires, whenever that is, but CMS Administrator Seema Verma recently said some would remain.
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