42 Percent Of Rural Providers Report A Drop in Patient Visits Due To COVID-19

42 Percent Of Rural Providers Report A Drop in Patient Visits Due To COVID-19

As COVID-19 (Coronavirus) continues to spread, rural and disparate communities are beginning to see the impacts of the virus. Hospitals and clinics are working to reduce exposure, but many clinics are struggling with decreased patient volumes, lowered revenues, and workflow changes. 

To better understand the impact of COVID-19 on rural clinics and hospitals, Azalea Health recently surveyed more than 800 providers to understand COVID-19’s impacts and the steps rural providers are taking to weather the outbreak. Of those surveyed, 42% have seen a recent, significant drop in patient utilization because of the virus.

“We are seeing major impacts to patient engagement, workflow, and revenue,” said Fahad Saleem, VP of Client Services for Azalea Health. “Across the board, providers are changing the way they deliver care while trying to manage through lower patient volumes and staffing challenges as people stay home to avoid possible exposure to the virus.”

Rural areas are already at a disadvantage when it comes to healthcare access and patient vulnerability. Gaps in healthcare frequently challenge these areas due to a shortage of physicians and hospital closures. Rural communities also tend to be older and sicker with a higher incidence of chronic conditions and comorbidities. 

One provider surveyed has seen a 60% drop in visits because the majority of the clinic’s patients are older and are canceling appointments to avoid exposure. Many clinics are limiting in-office visits based on age, and some are limiting appointments to only those who are sick and in need of immediate care.

“Preventative care is critical for these populations,” Saleem explained. “And these are just the type of visits that are being missed because of Coronavirus concerns and directives limiting the movement and exposure of older adults who are at highest risk.” 

Rural Health Clinics reported the highest impacts on patient engagement, with 55% reporting lower utilization because of COVID-19. Clinical delivery was the next area impacted, with 29% of respondents reporting significant changes to workflow to accommodate the government’s guidance on social distancing. 

In response, rural providers are investing in telehealth and additional forms of patient communication. 

“We are having to switch up how we are delivering care. We are utilizing telehealth…we are also having patients stay in their cars, and we come out to them,” said a practice manager at one of the clinics surveyed. More than a third of the physician practices and more than half of the rural health clinics that responded said they are implementing some type of telehealth option to ensure the continuity of care during the outbreak. 42% of all respondents are prioritizing patient communication through increased outreach across email, direct mail, voice, and text options. 

While there is an immediate dip in patient volumes across rural providers, the likelihood is that the COVID-19 virus will tax already overwhelmed hospitals as the outbreak continues to spread across the country. According to CovidActNow–a predictive tool created through a collaboration of data scientists, epidemiologists, and public health experts–the coronavirus event will likely last through June 2020 with a major peak around the last week of April. 

“We are seeing rural healthcare providers quickly adapt to this new environment,” said Saleem. “They are extremely concerned about patient revenues as well-visits and elective procedures have been delayed. But they are working to stay connected using technology like telehealth to ensure the care and health of their patient populations. As they prepare for the potential onslaught of sick patients, these providers are using technology to innovate workflows and patient communications so that they are best situated to care for and manage their patient population.

–Baha Ziedan, CEO, Azalea Health

Baha Zeidan serves as CEO and co-founder of Atlanta-based Azalea Health. The company simplifies healthcare through cloud-based, intuitive electronic medical record and billing solutions that empower underserved healthcare providers to improve patient care, patient safety, and profitability. Named one of “America’s Fastest-Growing Privately Held Companies,” Azalea Health has more than quadrupled revenue and doubled headcount in less than four years.

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