Insight Into Consumer Attitudes Should Inform How We Return To Routine Care

Author: Alpha Health Team

While the U.S. experiments with how best to reopen after shelter in place orders are eased, healthcare providers across the country are grappling with the same questions, and, in many cases, are setting the example for the rest of their communities to follow. herro

Decisions on how quickly to scale-up operations and bring back furloughed workers is a delicate balance and one that needs to be informed by insights into the attitudes of consumers. Most health systems have seen revenues cut in half due to COVID-19. As a result, major disconnects between offering services and when consumers will be ready to use those services could be financially devastating.

Alpha Health commissioned an online survey of more than 5,000 consumers designed to assess how soon Americans will be comfortable returning to routine care once shelter in place orders are lifted. The survey also assessed consumer concerns related to the cost of COVID-19 testing and treatment.

More than 60 percent of survey respondents indicated they would wait between one to three months after shelter in place orders are lifted to seek routine care. Survey respondents were split regarding their current comfort in seeking care for health issues not related to COVID-19, with 44 percent reporting that concerns about exposure to COVID-19 at a doctor’s office are preventing them from seeking care while just over half (54 percent) indicated that such concerns are not preventing them from seeking care for health issues not related to COVID-19.

The survey results exemplify that consumer sentiment towards how and when to re-engage with healthcare providers can sometimes be conflicting, adding to the challenging market conditions health systems have to navigate as they prepare to phase back in routine care and elective procedures. The ability to forecast utilization of services offered is critical for right sizing how these organizations bring back furloughed staff and ramp up operations.

“We expect to see patient demand return in waves when health systems return to routine and elective services,” said Malinka Walaliyadde, co-founder and CEO of Alpha Health. “Health system executives, including revenue cycle leaders, are facing unprecedented volatility in work volumes, making it very challenging for them to staff their teams appropriately. Many health systems have also experienced crippling declines in revenue as they halted routine and elective procedures to direct the necessary resources to their COVID-19 response. As a result, healthcare providers are under immense financial pressures making their revenue cycle operations more critical than ever before.”

Survey respondents were asked, “Are concerns about exposure to COVID-19 while at a doctor’s appointment preventing you from seeking care for health issues not related to COVID-19?”

Are concerns about exposure to COVID-19 while at a doctor’s appointment preventing you from seeking care for health issues not related to COVID-19 survey

More than one third (35 percent) of Americans report being willing to seek routine care immediately after shelter-in-place orders are lifted, while more than a third (37 percent) plan to wait at least one month longer and more than a quarter of respondents (26 percent) will wait 3 months or more.

COVID-19 Survey

“Leaning into automation and other technologies may seem counterintuitive at the moment,” said Varun Ganapathi, co-founder and chief technology officer of Alpha Health. “However, these tools are crucial to an organization’s ability to ensure business continuity and staffing flexibility during large swings in work volumes. Health systems will inevitably find that they are overstaffed and then understaffed during different periods of time. Revenue cycle managers are facing the dual challenges of minimizing stress on their teams and mitigating the need to hire and fire as their organizations navigate uncertainty and volatility in the market.”

Health systems will be looking to revenue cycle leaders to ensure their financial viability in both the near and long term. With approximately 40 million Americans filing for unemployment benefits in recent weeks, health systems are experiencing or may soon experience significant and unfavorable changes to their payer makeup as their Medicaid patient pools are likely to expand and a greater percentage of patients may be uninsured entirely. Revenue cycle teams are having to adapt their operations in real-time while also advising their leadership on the longer-term cost restructuring that will be required as a result of these market dynamics.

As the survey data implies, Americans are going to be thoughtful about returning to preventative and elective care. Automation applied throughout revenue cycle operations can help health systems navigate the inevitable fluctuations in volumes and fiscal exposure.

The survey results also show that 70 percent of Americans have concerns about the cost of COVID-19 testing and treatment. Fortunately, the survey results also indicate that these concerns would not prevent the majority of Americans from seeking care should they need it. However, one in five Americans (22 percent) indicate that cost concerns would prevent them from seeking testing and treatment for COVID-19 symptoms. This could significantly hinder public health efforts to effectively address the disease.

COVID-19 survey results pie chart

COVID-19 survey results pie chart

“Health systems have had to dramatically reorient resources to respond to COVID-19,” said Malinka Walaliyadde, co-founder and CEO of Alpha Health. “This is equally true for their teams focused on the patient financial experience and revenue cycle operations. Health systems need to not only address and allay fears related to COVID-19, but also need to inform their communities about financial support and out-of-pocket costs for COVID-19 testing and treatment. These efforts will be critical to putting the American public at ease about the medical costs of COVID-19, and ensuring that we, as a country, are able to perform the comprehensive testing needed to recover. Consumer concerns related to costs are likely to extend to any treatments or vaccines that are ultimately developed and consumers are going to look directly to their local providers for guidance on the financial implications of receiving available treatment or vaccines.”

“Revenue cycle leaders at health systems may need to rely on automation tools to provide business continuity and staffing flexibility while they adapt their teams in real-time to address the shifting needs of their health system and how best to serve their patients,” added Varun Ganapathi, co-founder and chief technology officer of Alpha Health. “Accurate and efficient revenue cycle operations serve as the foundation for providing positive patient financial experiences. Protecting people from the stress of surprise or inaccurate medical bills is part of protecting their overall health and well being.”

The survey was commissioned by Alpha Health and conducted by SurveyMonkey via an online poll. The survey was conducted April 17–23, 2020 among 5,379 adults ages 18 and older in the United States. Data have been weighted for age, race, sex, education and geography using the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey to reflect the demographic composition of the United States. The modeled error estimate rate for the full sample is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

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