- Medical groups faced lower utilization and revenues throughout 2020 as they shifted operations in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a survey out Thursday from the American Medical Group Association. Revenue declines outpaced declining expenses due to lower volumes at the pandemic's onset, the survey found.
- Provider compensation was protected while productivity decreased. Median annual visits per provider declined in 2020, but median provider salary and benefits expense as a percent of net revenue rose from 72% to 85%.
- Due to earlier furloughs and layoffs, median clinic staff salary and benefits expense as a percent of net revenue dipped slightly last year from 24% to 23%.
Although the findings come from last year, they cover the first full year of the pandemic when healthcare organizations made some of their biggest operational changes yet.
"You saw how groups tightened their belts and there was some learning from this that you're not going to let go of," Elizabeth Siemsen, one of the survey's authors who also works for AMGA, said. She added that the lessons are "going to be the building blocks for going forward and kind of creating that new normal."
AMGA collected responses from 47 medical groups, with about half identifying as system-affiliated organizations and the other half being independent. For-profit organizations made up 43% of respondents, while nonprofits made up 57%.
The findings paint a fuller picture of how medical groups slimmed their workforces at the onset of the pandemic, with about 60% to 70% of respondents reporting clinic staff were furloughed or experienced reduced hours.
Eliminating clinic staff was more common than eliminating provider roles, though temporary compensation changes were less common for clinic staff than for providers.
Other operational changes include harnessing telehealth and virtual care platforms to continue caring for patients. Providers experienced a significant increase in virtual visits as a percent of total visits in the second quarter of 2020 before leveling off for the rest of the year, the survey found.
In the second quarter of last year, primary care providers saw telehealth appointments make up almost 30% of their total visits. Those appointments made up for 20% of medical specialties providers' visits and 10% of visits to providers practicing surgical specialties, according to the survey.
Overall, despite lower volumes and revenues throughout last year, "it's still pretty impressive that they served a population during a very critical time and, at the same time, had to make sure that they could keep the lights on," Fred Horton, another author of the survey who works for AMGA said.