Outpatient care numbers drop due to COVID-19 pandemic

April 27, 2020

The rise in telehealth visits doesn’t completely offset the losses in revenue, according to a new report from The Commonwealth Fund.

The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has had a devastating impact on outpatient care in the U.S., according to a new study from The Commonwealth Fund.

The study, performed by researchers at Harvard University and healthcare technology company Phreesia, is built on an analysis of visit volume among the more than 50,000 physicians which use Phreesia products from Feb. 1 to April 16.

During a normal week before the pandemic, the included practices would see a total of 1 million patients. Forty-seven percent of these visits would be made to primary care physicians, while the rest are spread across more than 25 specialties, the study says.

Primary care physicians saw a drop of about 49 percent in their patient volume during the studied time period. The largest drops include:

  • 79 percent ophthalmology

  • 75 percent otolaryngology

  • 73 percent dermatology

  • 66 percent surgery

  • 63 percent pulmonology

Behavioral health saw the smallest dip with 30 percent less patient volume. The other smallest dips include:

  • 45 percent obstetrics/gynecology

  • 46 percent endocrinology

  • 7 percent oncology

While the drop in patient volume has hit all regions of the country, the largest dip was seen in New England and the mid-Atlantic. Children from the ages of seven to 17 saw the largest drop in visits with a 71 percent dip. The next highest dip was for patients over 75 years old, the study says.

While some of the lost outpatient volume has been picked up by telehealth visits, the study shows that it is not enough fully replace the lost patient volume.

These results match those from a survey by the Primary Care Collaborative to create a very grim picture of the current landscape in private practices.

The previous survey found that 89 percent of respondents have seen their patient volumes decrease while 82 percent of respondents say the COVID-19 related stress on their practice has been severe or close to severe.

Patient visit volumes has been cratering since the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services recommended practices use a tiered framework to postpone or cancel most outpatient procedures in an effort to free up healthcare personnel and personal protective equipment for battling the COVID-19 pandemic.