Post-Pandemic Patient Behavior

In the weeks following the outbreak of COVID-19, much attention and analysis has been directed to better understanding impacts on elective procedures within the healthcare system.  Now that elective procedure volume slowly begins ramping back up following the easing of stay-at-home orders, a new question should be emerging for care delivery systems across the country:

How will COVID-19 affect primary care patient and visit volumes in 2020 and beyond?

To answer this question, BCE has outlined three core factors that delivery systems should consider in order to shape their approach to managing and maintaining non-emergent patient volumes going forward:

[#1] Change in patient attitudes towards receiving primary care/wellness visits, generally

While many public spaces remain closed to Americans, COVID-19 has and will continue to change our expectations around if and how we approach entering and utilizing physical space going forward.  This dynamic will be even more acute in a healthcare setting.  BCE has already seen shifts in patient perception of safety in hospitals and other care delivery locations.  As a result, delivery systems must now consider several new factors to ensure patients feel safe entering their facilities and maintaining non-emergency visit volume going forward:

    1. Patients are likely less willing to be seen in-person by their primary care team as a result of COVID-19
    2. This will impact dimensions of care like the use of telemedicine to replace some in-person visit volume and timing of care (delaying routine wellness visits)
    3. Delivery systems will have to make adjustments to the in-person patient experience to make patients feel comfortable engaging in wellness care, including:
      • Re-directing COVID-19 to dedicated sites within the delivery system
      • Clearly communicating patient, provider, and staff safety protocols (e.g. masks)
      • Minimizing contact with staff and other patients
    4. Portions of the patient base will be less able to afford wellness care given changes in employment status and/or insurance status

Understanding what is most important to patients and how their priorities may have changed in this post-pandemic world will be critical enacting new policies and procedures that keep patients safe and coming “through the doors.”

[#2] Change in patient attitudes towards telemedicine, specifically

Just as COVID-19 has increased the pace and scale of digitization in the consumer world, telemedicine will also begin to play a more prominent role in the patient experience going forward and will likely be here to stay.  BCE believes the following factors will shape the transition to telemedicine in 2020:

    1. Patients will become more open to engaging in telemedicine visits, and these experiences will drive greater acceptance and adoption of telemedicine going forward
    2. Low initial patient expectations around what can/cannot be accomplished during a telemedicine visit will give way to increasing expectations around telemedicine capabilities
    3. Delivery systems will need to carefully understand reimbursement landscape for telemedicine as they transition more care in the short-term, and align development of capabilities to maximize reimbursement over the long-term
    4. Telemedicine will open up new opportunities to drive growth for the health system and reach different patient types / deliver new experiences going forward

Telemedicine is poised to become a near-term imperative for delivery systems and patients to maintain continuity of care, and it will likely become a more significant feature in care delivery models going forward.

[#3] Combined impacts on future patient volume

Perhaps most importantly, care delivery systems must act now to understand the implications from BCE predictions outlined in factors #1 and #2 so they can forecast changes in patient volumes going forward.  Understanding changes in patient expectations for visit experiences going forward, along with their willingness to engage in routine wellness checks, should serve as the foundation for making the following key decisions within the delivery system:

    1. What staffing mix/level will the system need to deliver the appropriate care over the next 6-12 months?
    2. Where within the system should those resources be deployed to meet the changing patient needs?
    3. What education must the system provide to staff to prepare them for COVID-19?
    4. How can you best monitor the patients and diagnoses for visits that do occur to manage population health?
    5. What other investments/divestments should the system make as a result of the changing care landscape?

Understanding and managing changes in patient volume over the coming months will be just as critical as managing elective procedures for care delivery systems going forward.  Developing the patient insights to forecast those changes and prepare for them now are key.


Walter Shepard

Walter Shepard

Principal, Yarmouth

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