- A new survey by McKinsey concludes that emergency department, hospital inpatient and outpatient volumes have returned to 2019 levels and are expected to exceed those rates in 2022. That's the consensus of executives at 100 hospitals that represent about 10% of all the beds in the United States. The majority were in the South and Northeast, although the Midwest and West are also represented.
- Virtual care will remain a staple, with encounters highly elevated compared to pre-COVID-19 numbers, but still making up a fraction of all patient hospital visits, McKinsey said.
- Hospital executives also said they will focus on growing surgical volumes — which took a huge hit in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. — but will be shifting more of them to the outpatient setting. A majority of hospital surgeries could be outpatient by as early as next year, according to the survey.
Hospitals took a huge fiscal hit during the height of the pandemic last spring and summer, requiring many to lay off staff and rely on advanced payments and loans that were made available as a result of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. However, the McKinsey survey suggests that the worst is over and growth lies ahead in 2022.
Overall, the hospital executives surveyed by McKinsey believe that ED and patient volumes will continue to grow through the remainder of this year. And for 2022, they will be about 5% to 6% higher compared to 2019. Inpatient and outpatient surgical volumes outstripped 2019 numbers in July. They are expected to be 6% to 8% higher next year and in 2023, although plastic surgery volumes remain depressed. For comparison, surgical volumes were 8% below 2019 numbers in February, but 2% ahead in June and July.
More than a third of hospital executives surveyed also believe that demand will exceed supply in some medical specialties over the next six months, particularly psychiatry and orthopaedic surgery. About a quarter say that cardiology and gastroenterology demand will also outstrip available supply. About 30% of respondents say they intend to grow their employed physician workforces in the coming months in response.
Meanwhile, telehealth consultations are expected to make up about 15% of all hospital patient encounters for the foreseeable future. Although that's down from 20% in 2020, the projection is still more than triple the proportion of telehealth visits in 2019, when they were less than 5% of the total patient encounters.
Despite the ongoing rebound, margins for hospitals and healthcare systems are tighter than they were before the pandemic. And should the current COVID-19 surge become much worse, it is unlikely that a relief package on the level of CARES would be made available again to providers.