Patient volume expected to rebound in fall following summer dip
By Jay Asser
Hospitals could experience a rise in patient volume in the coming months, especially on the outpatient side, after a decline in the summer.
Patient volume has been a barometer of the financial health of providers following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of the largest for-profit hospitals reported encouraging admission totals in the second quarter of the year, which contributed to stabilizing operating margins.
July, however, brought a dip in patient volume and revenue as hospitals’ financial performance worsened compared to previous months, according to Kaufman Hall’s latest National Hospital Flash Report. Adjusted discharges per calendar day fell 7% month-over-month, with outpatient revenue per calendar day dropping 8%, compared to a 3% decline on the inpatient side.
At least on the outpatient side, the decrease in volume shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, Janet Carbary, CFO at IRG Physical & Hand Therapy, told HealthLeaders.
“It’s pretty typical on the outpatient side that it slows down,” Carbary said. “We’re very used to a summer dip because people go on vacation, they don’t want to commit. We did see a little bit in July. We were blaming it maybe on the new COVID wave coming through, higher COVID numbers, and people are still reluctant to go into medical places if they have a high vulnerability to COVID. But it’s not uncommon because staff and doctors all take vacations during the summer.
IRG may have already started to experience the autumn bump with record-setting volume for August, Carbary shared.
“We’re a bit stunned by it ourselves,” she said. “We have truly seen the first pre-COVID numbers. So we’re excited about what we’re seeing so far.”
Carbary attributes the increase to demand rebounding after the pandemic kept patients away. Even with outpatient revenue per calendar day declining month-over-month in July, Kaufman Hall found it was still 9% higher year-over-year, 12% greater year-to-date compared to 2022, and a whopping 47% above 2020 levels.
“A lot of people delayed treatment until a time they felt comfortable to go get them,” Carbary said. “People are just trying to get back to some sense of normalcy and they’re not letting those things deter them or stop them like they were in the past.”
With the current fiscal challenges, hospitals can improve their financial flexibility and stability by capitalizing on the shift to outpatient settings in a post-pandemic world. By implementing strategies to expand their outpatient footprint, rural health and critical access hospitals in particular may be able to keep their doors open.
Simply, hospitals that emphasize care transitions will be in a better position than those who don’t. That could mean establishing relationships with local outpatient providers.