Just as Covid-19 penetrates our immune system’s weaknesses, the pandemic has stressed certain functions of the healthcare industry to a breaking point. With some experts suggesting death tolls will reach the multimillion mark by 2022, there’s no reprieve in sight.
Like torrential rain beating down on an old tin roof, Covid-19’s relentless pressure has exposed and exacerbated several healthcare problems. By understanding the impact of economic realities, poor patient outcomes, delayed procedures and lack of attention to existing problems, we can better comprehend the magnitude of these circumstances. I’ll also briefly touch on five things we can do right now to fix them.
Problem 1: Covid-19 has put hospitals and healthcare systems in an economic crisis.
Hospitals and private practices that thrive on insurance reimbursements are now facing steep financial challenges. When the reality of Covid-19’s impact hit Americans, many people responded by following quarantine measures and staying home from work, school and large social activities. Simultaneously, high numbers put off scheduled medical procedures out of fear of contracting the novel coronavirus.
With some people avoiding medical visits at all costs, the American Hospital Association estimates revenue losses are reaching $50 billion a month. A number of hospitals and clinics will fail as a result of this crisis. Outpatient care witnessed nationwide downsizing of 1.3 million jobs between February and April 2020. The impact has been felt by medical group practices of all sizes, with a reported 60% decrease in patient care across the board. Helping people to regain trust in hospitals and healthcare systems is vital to ending financial losses before they become too great to overcome.
Problem 2: Covid-19 has caused patients to delay procedures, which can lead to more fatalities.
Unfortunately, poor patient choices are a gateway to poor patient outcomes. For example, millions of children have missed vaccine doses, introducing the risks of exposure to routine and preventable diseases. Meanwhile, there has been a staggering 90% drop in cancer screenings, which opens the door to delayed diagnoses and treatments.
Without adequate care, we can expect to see increased side effects, decreased life expectancy and greater medical compromises of at-risk populations. Unsurprisingly, 1 out of every 10 people who put off seeing a doctor due to Covid-19 concerns indicated their conditions worsened. Restoring patient confidence is paramount in regaining the strength of the healthcare industry.
Problem 3: Covid-19 has caused delays in pathology labs, which increases patient risk.
Pathology labs are at the forefront of the fight against the coronavirus, with up to 831,900 tests performed every day. However, that push to meet public demand — and earn valuable Medicare reimbursement — has resulted in dangerous backlogs of daily patient work that is considered nonpriority.
When a pathology lab delays processing skin specimens or other biopsies to focus on Covid-19 cases, it unintentionally increases the patient’s level of risk. Some estimates claim these coronavirus postponements will lead to over 10,000 cancer fatalities in the next decade. By reducing the wait time for day-to-day lab results today, we can save lives tomorrow.
Problem 4: Covid-19 is the only health concern receiving attention from the media and government resources.
The 24/7 coronavirus news coverage has pushed existing health issues to the back burner. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has estimated the Covid-19 infection fatality rate as low as just 0.2% in some scenarios, the country faces other medical concerns that deserve increased awareness.
For instance, there is a crisis in rural communities where healthcare is difficult to access and afford. Affecting 15% to 20% of the U.S. population, millions of underserved citizens have to travel long distances or endure lengthy turnaround times to receive the medical care that others enjoy in their communities.
While access to telehealth during the pandemic helps people connect with providers from the comfort of home, there’s still a great chasm to cross to ensure proper diagnoses and treatments are available to every American. By shining a light, the media could divert some government attention and funding toward the country’s continuing health concerns.
Here are five things we can do to improve the situation while experts are working on a Covid-19 vaccine:
1. Rapidly adopt telehealth.
Some people are skipping preventative care visits out of fear of contamination. Allowing individuals to communicate with providers from their electronic devices will help patients receive the medical attention they require in a timely manner while keeping healthcare workers safe.
2. Discuss hospital bailouts.
There is a growing threat of smaller hospitals furloughing, restructuring or closing, which will impede access to care. Already, 29 hospitals have filed for bankruptcy this year. It is time to weigh the argument for hospital bailouts or shifting dollars directly from insurance to keep them operational.
3. Transmit digital data.
Reevaluating Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) requirements to find the least burdensome approach that still prioritizes patient safety and privacy could lead to more medical discoveries by combining data points.
4. Examine alternate forms of insurance for younger people.
Reevaluate and allow catastrophic plans disallowed by the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that make sense. Millennials and independent contractors can’t afford full-blown health insurance plans that can cost hundreds per month. Instead, consider a program for younger adults that provides a prescription plan with testing covered by, say, LabCorp and an annual telehealth visit through GoodRx.
5. Use academic standards to evaluate best practices.
By upholding academic standards, we can ensure patients receive consistent and competent care anywhere in the country.
The Covid-19 pandemic has revealed and magnified considerable shortcomings in the healthcare community. By examining the economic concerns, patient results, postponed procedures and neglect of existing issues, we can make measurable strides in improving the healthcare industry and improving patient care.