- Hospital volumes have improved since a low point in mid-April, but volume appears to be stalling as case counts explode in certain regions, according to cell phone data monitored by Jefferies. Analysts are tracking cell tower data at 3,300 facilities across the country.
- Hospital traffic in Arizona, New York and Texas was lower than it was a week ago, according to data for the week ended June 28. As cases surge in Texas, elective procedures were halted, likely contributing to the week over week volume decline, Jefferies analysts noted.
- Still, some states like Florida and California did see increases in volume compared to the week prior. However, that may be subject to change as some south Florida hospitals announced they are halting elective procedures to prepare for a surge of patients as cases mount.
The figures highlight the uneven recovery for the healthcare sector as states and local governments decide how and when to reopen their local economies. Also influencing hospital volumes is whether patients feel comfortable returning to a hospital or doctor's office.
To provide answers around how the sector is recovering and whether volumes are returning — and at what pace — Jefferies analysts use cellphone data on about 40 million mobile devices and compare the traffic (or pings in hospitals) to volume experienced in early January 2019, which has been established as the index.
"The trajectory of the recovery is far from settled but hospital traffic can help inform the question. While not a perfect gauge of procedure volumes, an increase in visits broadly would suggest that activity in hospitals is returning to normal levels," a recent Jefferies note said.
The biggest leap in traffic occurred on June 7, which saw a 7.3% increase in traffic compared to the week prior, according to Jefferies. The data for the most recent week, ended June 28, reported an increase of just 0.1%, leading analysts to conclude traffic has stalled out.
The report shows week over week declines at the major publicly traded hospitals, including HCA, Tenet and Community Health Systems. These declines are expected given these players have operations in states now considered hot spots. For example, HCA and Tenet saw 5.9% and 5.4% declines week over week when zeroing in on Texas.
As cases spike, leaders and facility operators will likely halt procedures, "we expect this trend to continue in [Texas] and to start to show up in [Florida] over the next few weeks," Jefferies said.
Hospital operators painted a grim picture for a return to normal in a recent survey conducted by the American Hospital Association. A majority of respondents do not expect volumes to return to normal this year, according to the responses from AHA members at 1,360 hospitals across 48 states.
The lobby says another financial aid package is needed as they expect an additional $120.5 billion in losses for the remainder of the year.
Experts are now urging Americans to wear masks in public places to help contain the spread. Places that were once resistant to mask mandates are now requiring residents face coverings in public places, including in areas of Missouri and Texas.
As of Monday there were more than 2.8 million confirmed COVID-19 cases in the U.S. and more than 129,000 deaths.