How COVID-19 Will Forever Change U.S. Healthcare: Experts Weigh In
Without a doubt, COVID-19 is dramatically changing and will continue to change the face of the American healthcare system. By interviewing experts, we’ve identified three major changes to look for in the coming years:
Increased Telemedicine Usage
Prior to the pandemic, approximately 13,000 patients across the United States utilizing Medicare had received telemedicine in a week. In the last week of April, that number increased to 1.7 million.
Telemedicine is here to stay. With vast areas of the country locking down, telemedicine provides a safe, fast way of accessing care without risk of infection. Through services such as Teladoc, patients can connect with a licensed doctor over the phone in minutes. Telemedicine doctors can offer advice and write prescriptions, particularly for the most common ailments. In the early days of the pandemic, CMS expanded the scope of Medicare telehealth across the country and added over 130 allowable services to telehealth beneficiaries.
"We will probably never go back to expecting in-person visits for at least 50% of all outpatient visits."
Dr. Jack Lewin, Chairman of the National Coalition on Health, explains:
“COVID created a long-awaited approach to telemedicine, with no doubt. Telemedicine is in amazingly broad use and we will probably never go back to expecting in-person visits for at least 50% of all outpatient visits.”
Less small practices, more large integrated medical groups
A PCC and Green Center Physician survey found that 79% of respondents are visiting the doctor less than prior to the pandemic. Due to this lack of visits, many small primary care practices are struggling to stay afloat. Large, integrated medical groups have the capital to survive a downturn and may constitute the majority of outpatient care in the coming years.
Dr. Jack Lewin: “We may very well see some major shift in how primary care is delivered, as many small practices could be crippled because of the pandemic. Integrated medical groups will have to pick up the slack, and other types of delivery systems such as CVS and Walmart may begin to fill the space of outpatient care”
"COVID-19 has put the entire healthcare system under stress. Larger institutions are going to be fine, but the little guys will be in trouble"
John Rothers, President of the National Coalition on Healthcare, weighed in:
“COVID-19 has put the entire healthcare system under stress. Larger institutions are going to be fine, but the little guys will be in trouble: small rural hospitals and independent physician practices. They are really going to struggle.”
A Stronger Focus on Domestic Manufacturing
Without adequate PPE and testing supplies, the US was unable to quickly respond when the virus hit the country in March. If we’re to survive future health crisis, it is crucial that the US creates and maintains a stronger focus on domestic manufacturing.
China produces a vast majority of the PPE used in the United States. As Wuhan province was first hit by the novel virus, China’s supplies were first sent to their own provinces, rendering the US helpless to order from usual PPE supplies. Desperate hospitals were forced to seek back-alley deals in a gray market of 3rd party PPE providers.
Our current international medical supply chain is predicated on predictability. As soon as healthcare needs are no longer predictable, or vary greatly from the previous year, the system collapses and our frontline workers are left without valuable equipment. Relying on the Defense Production Act to produce ventilators and other equipment may function as a band-aid, but our supply chain must be primarily domestic in order to repeat the mistakes of 2020.
Want to read more from the Patient Logistics Journal? Read about the day-to-day hurdles of disorganized patient care, from an ER doctor.
1. “Early Impact Of CMS Expansion Of Medicare Telehealth During COVID-19, " Health Affairs Blog, July 15, 2020.
2. Rubin R. COVID-19’s Crushing Effects on Medical Practices, Some of Which Might Not Survive. JAMA. Published online June 18, 2020. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.11254