Provider Road to Recovery Phase IIBy: Barry Chaiken, MD

In my first article on a COVID-19 Recovery shared the steps provider organizations needed to take to respond to the needs of patients who delayed elective care due to the COVID-19 pandemic. By taking these steps organizations restarted their service lines while taking measures to ensure that their patients did not seek other providers to obtain treatment. You can read Provider Road to Recovery I here.

As I write this at the beginning of June, our country is experiencing Phase 1 of the pandemic. Businesses are re-opening, the incidence of disease is decreasing, and we do not have a vaccine or any meaningful treatments for COVID-19. Although the reopening will most likely lead to an uptick in cases, it is hoped that wearing masks and proper social distancing will keep the disease spread at manageable rates.

This re-opening of businesses and our departure from self-imposed isolation signifies the beginning of the Phase 2 of the pandemic. Phase 2 is estimated to last three to six months or maybe longer if there is a significant second disease wave and a bad influenza season. Road_To_Recovery_Phase_II

In Phase 2, businesses expand their services and modify their business practices (e.g., limited seating in restaurants). The COVID-19 disease incidence rate will plateau with a steady number of new cases reported daily. Although researchers are hard at work, we will not have a meaningful treatment or vaccine. As we enter Phase 2 of the pandemic, provider organizations should adjust to the changes in healthcare delivery to take advantage of the opportunities presented.

Telemedicine — Prior to the pandemic, most organizations avoided offering telemedicine services due to its small reimbursement rate and the potential to cannibalize more profitable in-person ambulatory visits. With ambulatory clinics shuttered and a waiving of reimbursement rules by CMS and private insurers, provider organizations rapidly expanded telemedicine visits to satisfy the needs of patients and preserve as much revenue producing services as possible. Physicians accustomed to in-person visits quickly shifted to care delivery through laptops, tablets, and smartphones. Telemedicine use grew exponentially during Phase 1 and played an important role in patient care In Phase 2, provider organizations must continue their telemedicine offering and redesign their care delivery processes to incorporate telemedicine into their overall ambulatory care strategy.

Delayed Elective Care— As organizations continue to catch up on delayed surgeries, diagnostic tests, and therapeutic treatments, they also must work to analyze and redeploy their assets — facilities, equipment, staff — to maximize patient throughput and associated revenue.

Market Expansion — The financial shock to small provider practices and standalone ambulatory care centers has forced many of these entities to either close their doors or be acquired by larger organizations. The shrinking of the provider market offers opportunities to expand services to new geographic areas. In addition, organizations that do not quickly open service lines provide an opening for their more agile competitors to capture patients who are underserved. For some organizations, this increase in patient volumes can turn some service lines into significant profit centers.

Real Estate — Finally, the pandemic helped organizations learn which activities could effectively be delivered from a work-from-home environment. Moving workers out of offices frees up space for other uses that can help expand service line capacity. In addition, the economic downturn and business closings allows for less expensive expansion of services into geographic areas that now have a surplus of reasonably priced office space.

While the length of Phase 2 is unknown, organizations should begin the process of identifying their top priorities, evaluating their best opportunities, and building data driven plans for thriving during the next phase of the pandemic.

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