Practice leaders offer insights and strategies to continue recovery in new year
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (January 25, 2021)
– As pandemic social distancing widened to include medical distancing – significantly reducing office visits for routine and sick care throughout much of 2020 – health care leaders are using a broad range of communications and operational tactics to ensure patients receive proper care amid a COVID-19 surge, according to a new report by the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) and Humana.
The joint publication, “No Time to Waste: Deferred Care and Pandemic Recovery,”
leverages qualitative and quantitative data from medical practices across the United States to illustrate the impact of deferred care during the pandemic. The report also details practical steps and strategies from practice leaders for those in the health care community to pursue to continue recovery and help patients achieve crucial connections with physicians and other providers.
“Medical distancing emerged as an unintended consequence of the pandemic, as evidenced by a considerable decrease in patient visits to manage chronic conditions. The health care industry demonstrated great flexibility and nimbleness in the adoption of new technologies to facilitate provider-patient engagement. It is essential that we continue to build on those advancements and intentionally outreach to patients who averted care to reduce adverse impacts from care interruptions,” said William Shrank, MD, MPHS, Humana’s chief medical and corporate affairs officer.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, thousands of medical practices nationwide saw an immediate decrease in patient visits. MGMA polling data found that 97% of practices reported a drop in patient visits by early April 2020. Another MGMA poll in July 2020
, as the pandemic worsened, found that safety (87%) was the top reason patients cited for deferring care during the pandemic, followed by job/insurance loss (9%) and other issues (4%), such as elective surgery bans, visitor restrictions in clinics or noncompliance with mask/safety requirements.
Contributors of Deferred Care
A lack of reliable internet connection for patients in rural areas, older patients not being as tech savvy when attempting telehealth services and vulnerable populations having trouble connecting to platforms such as Zoom, FaceTime and Hangouts all posed challenges to accessing care in 2020.
“The data gathering through stories and the insights we gained from practice leaders across the nation to produce this report are compelling and eye-opening. Among the challenges and obstacles they (medical practices) faced every day, we heard stories of innovation, thinking outside the box and doing all they can to make patients feel safe and that they get the care they need. As an association that supports medical practices, it’s our responsibility to continue data collecting and continue providing information and resources so these practices can be as forward-thinking, efficient and as successful as possible,” said Halee Fisher-Wright, MD, MMM, FAAP, FACMPE, president and CEO of MGMA.
Along with the potential for patients to avoid care due to cost concerns and/or loss of employer-sponsored coverage, the potential for deferred care could increase additionally as COVID-19 cases spike during the remainder of the winter. In addition to posing renewed challenges for practices, this also raises significant concern for patients who allow health issues to go untreated or undertreated in the months ahead.
Virtual visits advanced considerably during the pandemic, becoming a key connection between patients and their physicians. While telehealth became more prevalent, hurdles remain in getting some patients to embrace remote care. Despite more than half of patients (57%) reporting a medical condition that required immediate attention, about 60% of patients had not tried a virtual visit by July. The top reasons for avoiding them included:
- Complaints that virtual visits are too impersonal
- Not knowing enough about virtual visits
- Concerns about the quality of care and/or online privacy
In terms of missed and canceled appointments or delayed procedures, the extent of deferred care varies by specialty and location. Gastroenterology and orthopedics, for example, were hit hard by bans on non-emergency surgeries. Other specialties reported general concern from older patients about physically visiting offices, which decreased preventative screenings. For OB/GYN practices, patients put off bone-density scans, mammograms and other services that cannot be done virtually. Neurology patients deferred physical therapy appointments and MRIs.
Strategies to Continue Recovery and Increase Patient Engagement and Communication
Continuing to engage patients in their health, ensuring they are willing to seek and receive care as needed, regardless of whether visits are face-to-face in a health care setting or via a computer screen, is vital for medical practice growth in the year ahead.
Considerations for increasing patient engagement and communication include:
- Updating organizations’ safety and cleaning protocols as state and local governments respond to the pandemic.
- Using contactless methods of patient engagement whenever possible, including patient portal communications, frequent appointment reminders via text and/or email, mobile check-in technology, HIPAA-compliant online forms and online bill pay.
- Considering new methods of patient communication, such as hosting a Zoom meeting to detail the importance of seeing a doctor during the pandemic or enabling chatbots or live chat functionality on a practice website to reduce call volumes and to answer patient questions.
To download and access the full report: “No Time to Waste: Deferred Care and Pandemic Recovery.”
Founded in 1926, the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) is the nation’s largest association focused on the business of medical practice management. MGMA consists of 15,000 group medical practices ranging from small private medical practices to large national health systems representing more than 350,000 physicians. MGMA helps nearly 60,000 medical practice leaders and the health care community solve the business challenges of running practices so that they can focus on providing outstanding patient care. Specifically, MGMA helps its members innovate and improve profitability and financial sustainability, and it provides the gold standard on industry benchmarks such as physician compensation. The association also advocates extensively on its members’ behalf on national regulatory and policy issues. To learn more, go to mgma.com
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Hollon Kohtz, MGMA Public Relations
Humana Inc. is committed to helping our millions of medical and specialty members achieve their best health. Our successful history in care delivery and health plan administration is helping us create a new kind of integrated care with the power to improve health and well-being and lower costs. The company’s efforts are helping lead to a better quality of life for people with Medicare, families, individuals, military service personnel and communities at large. To accomplish that, Humana supports physicians and other health care professionals as they work to deliver the right care in the right place for their patients, our members. Humana’s range of clinical capabilities, resources and tools – such as in-home care, behavioral health, pharmacy services, data analytics and wellness solutions – combine to produce a simplified experience that makes health care easier to navigate and more effective. More information regarding Humana is available at www.humana.com
Matt Wheeler, Humana Corporate Communications