Covid-19’s Financial Impact on Healthcare Providers

Covid-19’s Financial Impact on Healthcare Providers was originally published on Hospital Recruiting.

An image of a nearly empty waiting room illustrates the financial impact of covid-19 on healthcare providers.
Trong Nguyen/123RF.com

Physicians and other healthcare providers are experiencing life-changing economic hardship never seen since Hippocrates walked the earth. Office waiting rooms, once full and overflowing, are all but empty. Tele-health consultations are more frequent. It remains to be seen if physicians will receive compensation from insuring agencies for telehealth visits at the same rate as office visits. Currently, most of them pay substantially less for calls vs. office appointments.

And then there was Covid-19

Daily, physicians, nurses, and other healthcare workers are putting their lives at risk by their tireless and unselfish care of COVID-19 patients. There’s no end in sight, but there’s a new fight that physicians can add — economic hardship. Waiting and examination rooms which once overflowed are often empty. Reduced numbers of patients, combined with lesser reimbursements for virtual visits, have put the financial health of medical practices in jeopardy.

The COVID-19 pandemic has placed an unparalleled demand on all medical resources. Patients now packing emergency rooms overwhelmed the supply of personal protective equipment and ventilators. Healthcare providers are working more hours than ever before. Staffing teams are overwhelmed. Traveling health professionals from across the country are going to hot spots with high-volume needs.

There are dramatic reductions in patient office visits from non-COVID-19 diseases. Even though businesses and healthcare systems are “reopening” to more than just patients with difficulty breathing and signs of infectious disease, patients still avoid emergency rooms for problems which are not extremely threatening, and they avoid urgent care settings with legitimate fears of being exposed to the virus.

Elective surgeries were suspended early in the pandemic, hoping to decrease infection transmission overall and to free up staff and supplies needed for COVID-19 management. With that action, patient visits to multi-specialty practices declined about 50 percent. That is across all medical fields. General and subspecialty surgeons’ practice volume decreased between 70 percent and 99 percent. In Florida, patient volumes were reduced nearly 50 percent across every specialty, statewide.

Physician practices may be unsustainable from reduced patient volume. Due to the pandemic, the healthcare industry has suffered the largest drop in business ever in the first quarter of 2020. The decline in elective surgeries and non-emergency care has been cited as the driving force behind the national recession. In the last emergency funding bill, Congress authorized $175 billion for distribution to the Department of Health and Human Services for the healthcare providers and facilities enduring financial hardship due to the pandemic, but federal aid is being disbursed slowly.

Despite the great need for healthcare in some areas, medical staff layoffs result in additional economic hardship to healthcare workers and their families. Medical staff may transform medical practices into clinics which do not provide the services for which they were intended and to which patients have grown accustomed. There are longer wait times for return phone calls, long delays for an appointment and other issues. Patients are more and more frustrated.  There are potential delays in diagnosis and treatment of disease, with the consequences dire, even fatal.

In contrast to physicians in private practices, many employed physicians at hospitals and health systems are relatively shielded from the economic impact of COVID-19 — at least for now. Some health systems have reduced physicians’ pay by 20 percent, but other systems have been putting off any reductions.

There is more proposed funding which would assist physician practices that are financially unstable, due to the executive order to discontinue non-urgent procedures and surgeries. Physician groups are urging the administration and Congress to target funds specifically for physician practices that are struggling with the abrupt and severe loss in revenue that threatens their ability to provide patient care and the sustainability of the entire U.S. health-care system.