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ED Visits Remain 26% Below Pre-COVID-19 Levels

Analysis  |  By Alexandra Wilson Pecci  
   November 24, 2020

The new TransUnion Healthcare analysis also showed that inpatient volumes were down 9% below pre-COVID-19 volumes during the week of October 25-31.

After experiencing some post-COVID-19 rebound, hospital visit volumes recoveries have remained stagnant, finds the latest TransUnion Healthcare research.

The analysis of more than 500 hospitals across the United States found that emergency department visits were down 26% compared to pre-COVID-19 volumes, which is only one-basis point lower than ED volumes 10 weeks prior.

"No change is also news," Jonathan Wiik, principal of healthcare strategy at TransUnion Healthcare, tells HealthLeaders.

The new analysis also showed that inpatient volumes were down 9% below pre-COVID-19 volumes during the week of October 25-31, which is also one-basis point lower than the level recorded in mid-August.

While ED and inpatient visits have stayed flat, volumes for other care settings have stayed at or above pre-COVID-19 levels. Outpatient visits have largely remained about the same as pre-COVID-19 levels, and telehealth visits are much higher.

However, Wiik says the question remains: Where is that missing 26% of ED patients?

"Where did those patients go? That's what was shocking to me," he says "They're either not going at all…deferring because of [pandemic] fear, or they've replaced it with some other alternative setting."

It could be a combination of both. In November 2020, TransUnion Healthcare also conducted a survey of 1,375 people who had used telehealth services in the past 12 months.

Most telehealth patients surveyed said they used virtual health services in place of visiting their primary care physician office (60%), and an additional 8% of respondents utilized telehealth instead of visiting the ED.

It also found that:

  • 14% of patients used telehealth without considering an in-person healthcare setting
  • 11% of patients used telehealth instead of visiting an urgent care facility
  • 67% of patients would be at least somewhat likely to continue utilizing telehealth once a COVID-19 vaccine is available and distributed
  • 71% of patients said the quality of care they received via telehealth was the same as or better than in-person medical care

Of course, whether reimbursement parity for telehealth will persist in a post-COVID-19 world remains an open question.

"We're in a purgatory right now," Wiik says. "Even if consumers want it, if payers aren't going to pay it at a rate that's on-par with in person visits, [providers] will go back to in-person visits because they need to sustain their operations financially."

Alexandra Wilson Pecci is an editor for HealthLeaders.

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