The national lockdown to curb the spread of COVID-19 took everyone by surprise. After the government declared a State of Disaster in mid-March, most businesses had only a few days to either implement COVID-19 protocols or close their doors for an unknown period of time. By the time level 5 came into effect, most medical practices were deemed an essential service and healthcare providers prepared for an influx of patients. But in the weeks that followed, a worrying trend saw medical practices unusually quiet – a cause for concern for many practices.
We looked at our data to help understand the impact on Allied Health Professional businesses and find ways to minimise the patient and financial implications.
Trend 1: Despite growth of COVID-19 cases, the average private Allied Professional experienced a major drop in patient consultations
*Data is based on a sample size of just over 4 600 Allied Healthcare Professionals using Healthbridge
The graph shows a significant decrease in patient volumes for April, May and June. In fact, claims dropped by over 30% in April in comparison to March. Although the number of Allied visits are subject to a seasonal drop in April due to holidays, when we compare patient volumes from previous years (as depicted in the graph below), we can see that the drop in 2020 was significant when compared to previous years.
*Data is based on privately practicing Allied Healthcare Professionals using Healthbridge
Implications of this graph
It has to be noted that the above graph shows the average drop in claim volumes over a number of disciplines in the Allied Health Professional space. As is the case when stats of mixed groups are averaged, some of the worst affected are lost in the analysis. For this reason, we’ve extracted data to show examples of disciplines with the least, the average and the most affected in terms of claim volumes due to the national lockdown implemented this year; namely psychology, physiotherapy, and chiropractic disciplines accordingly.
Generally speaking, psychology practices showed the least drop in claim volumes:
*Data is based on privately practicing Psychologists – Counselling using Healthbridge
Generally speaking, physiotherapy practices seem to align to the average level of impact in terms of their claim volumes:
*Data is based on privately practicing Physiotherapists using Healthbridge
Unfortunately, it appears that chiropractic practices seem to be the worst affected since the start of the national lockdown:
*Data is based on privately practicing Chiropractors using Healthbridge
Why is this important?
While a drop in Allied Health Professional visits could be attributed to lockdown restrictions, the significance of the drop needs to be understood in a wider context. It is important to note that this data is representative of private healthcare only, and the impact felt by the public sector could have been greater.
It can be surmised that patients were potentially avoiding healthcare practices for fear of contracting COVID-19. As a result, follow up appointments were missed and regular check-ups were skipped. This doesn’t only pose a threat to patients in the short term, but it also poses a threat to the future healthcare burden, post-COVID-19.
By extension, the downtrend had an immediate financial impact on private practices. Most practices will have experienced a drop in revenue that is significant enough to impact turnover for the entire financial year and making it difficult to cover costs.
There is also the potential long-term impact on the healthcare sector in general that must be considered. For instance, the financial losses could result in practices closing their doors, Medical Professionals taking early retirement or a spike in immigration in the coming months. This, when Medical Professionals are already in demand, could result in a decrease in the number of Medical Professionals available to provide healthcare care services. This poses an even bigger threat to the population’s health as the healthcare burden grows on a dwindling number of Medical Professionals.
Trend 2: Allied Healthcare Professionals had an increase in virtual consultations
*Data is based on a sample size of over 4 600 Allied Healthcare professionals using Healthbridge
In the midst of the crisis, telehealth consultations became a safe, feasible way to see patients. The graph above indicates that while the adoption of telehealth is apparent, virtual consults only made up around 1% of total consults. While it’s true that COVID-19 took everyone by surprise, many practices were either slow to react or had too many technology restrictions to pivot their services to offer virtual appointments. Not only did those practices lose thousands of Rands in revenue, but patients also sought out alternative healthcare providers.
*Data is based on a sample size of 4 600 private Allied Healthcare Professionals using Healthbridge’s myMPS software. Data is of a weekly view.
The data above demonstrates the uptake in adoption for both video and telephonic consults during the pandemic. We can also see that as the pandemic eased into level 4, the video consults started slowly dropping, however telephonic consults never peaked to quite the same extent as the video consults.
Another observation we can make from our sales data is that there was an increase in demand for cloud-based practice management solutions. Medical Professionals were faced with the same shift as the general population to adopt a more digital way of life. As a result, the need to manage medical practices from anywhere, at any time became more urgent as patients sought alternatives to in-person consults and medical professionals had to find ways to keep their staff and patients safe.
Why is this important?
1. The ability to consult digitally is not only a new norm, but an expectation for the future.
- Future novel diseases will continue to emerge, and practices need to be prepared. What COVID-19 has shown us is that medical practices need to future-proof against the same kind of economic hardship and be able to meet patient needs as they change.
- The population at large has been forced to adopt more digital tools to carry out their day-to-day activities. As people become more accustomed to using technology to live their lives, their expectations will rapidly extend to include virtual consults as the norm.
- The trend is even more obvious when we look to our overseas counterparts. For example, in 2018, 18% of American doctors reported treating a patient via telehealth. During the pandemic, almost half (48%) of all US physicians said they had treated patients virtually, according to a recent survey1.
2. Allied Health Professionals are also seeing that there are certain consultation types that are better suited to video and others by telephonic means. This not only improves time efficiencies for the practice but also:
- It is markedly more convenient for particular patient populations, such as the elderly, patients with chronic diseases, patients who are busy and those who live or work far away from the practice.
- it’s also far more suitable for specific consultations such as communicating test results or issuing repeat prescriptions.
Trend 3: Counselling-related treatment was the top diagnosis for virtual consults
From the graph below, we can see the immediate impact that lockdown had on patients. The top three diagnoses related to adjustment disorders, mixed disorder of scholastic skills and undue concern & preoccupation with stressful events that all lend themselves to being carried out virtually. It’s also a good indicator of what to expect from your patient population in the event of another outbreak or future pandemics.
If COVID-19 taught us anything, it’s that medical practices need to be prepared and agile enough to respond to what is affecting their patients, and the population as a whole.
Practices that did not have the technological infrastructure took the hardest knock and while some took the opportunity to implement technology, it was unnecessarily stressful to roll out in the midst of so many changes.
If we rewind back to mid-March knowing what we know now, would your practice have suffered the same financial impact? And would you have opted to be more prepared? If nothing else, the crisis has cemented the fact that we need to be able to run businesses digitally. The world has effectively changed forever and being able to live and work remotely is no longer a nice to have, but a necessity.
Healthbridge has been helping doctors run their businesses for over 20 years. As a technology leader in billing & clinical healthcare solutions, we would love to ben given the opportunity to assess your practice processes and suggest ways to improve your revenue potential. For a call back from one of our skilled Bui=siness Consultants, click here.
- CB Insights Research. 2020. 24 Industries & Technologies That Will Shape The Post-Virus World – CB Insights Research. [online] Available at: <https://www.cbinsights.com/research/report/industries-tech-shaping-world-post-covid/> [Accessed 25 June 2020].
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