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What Has the Last Week Revealed About Hospitals as They Prepare for the Post-COVID Era?

Things are moving so fast right now, and it’s easy to be overwhelmed with information and suffer from a fundamental lack of insights. This week, there were a few pieces of interesting news we wanted to highlight and take the opportunity share out how the dots connect and point toward the need for Rapid Recovery for hospitals and other providers.

#1. Quorum files for bankruptcy.  

It’s fair to say that COVID-19 didn’t create Quorum’s problems, but it certainly didn’t help. Will this hospital system bankruptcy help raise awareness of the financial pressure hospitals face? Without Rapid Recovery of surgical volume and better rates from health plans, we could see widespread hospital bankruptcies and further consolidation.

#2. UnitedHealthcare is distributing HHS payments to hospitals. 

It feels like this should fall into the category of “I can’t tell if you’re kidding or not.” The federal government has tasked the least trusted health plan in America with distributing the first $30 billion in federal stimulus money. My favorite quote from the POLITICO article is:

 “Now, there are lingering questions about why UnitedHealth was selected to distribute the $30 billion in funds…As the country’s largest health care insurer, UnitedHealth and one of its subsidiaries, Optum, have the cash and the financial infrastructure to quickly move $30 billion to hospitals, proponents of the arrangement say.”

If United has the cash to distribute $30 billion, can’t they also find a way to distribute some of their own cash to support hospitals in this desperate time of need?

#3. Non-COVID-19 patients are nowhere to be found.

Hospitals all over the country have paused elective and scheduled surgeries to care for COVID-19 patients. Yet that doesn’t explain the huge drop in ER volume and common health issues such as heart attacks and strokes. We might speculate that people “sheltering at home” are avoiding walks on city streets or driving in traffic, which may contribute to fewer health issues, especially injuries. But none of that explains the drop in heart attacks and strokes. A recent Washington Post article titled “Patients with heart attacks, strokes, and even appendicitis vanish from hospitals” said:

“Five weeks into a nationwide coronavirus lockdown, many doctors believe the pandemic has produced a silent sub-epidemic of people who need care at hospitals but dare not come in. They include people with inflamed appendixes, infected gall bladders and bowel obstructions, and more ominously, chest pains and stroke symptoms, according to these physicians and early research…Some doctors worry that illness and mortality from unaddressed health issues may rival the carnage produced by the virus in regions less affected by COVID-19. And some expect they will soon see patients who have dangerously delayed seeking care as ongoing symptoms force them to overcome their fear.”

This natural human reaction to the COVID-19 crisis has immediate consequences, as well as implications for Rapid Recovery planning. If people are afraid to visit the ER, what does that say for elective surgery? 

“A Gallup online poll taken March 28 to April 2 asked people with different conditions how concerned they would be about exposure to coronavirus if they needed ‘medical treatment right now’ at a hospital or doctor’s office. Eighty-six percent of people with heart disease said they would be either ‘very concerned’ or ‘moderately concerned.’ Among people with high blood pressure, the figure was 83 percent.”

In addition, a recent NRC study says that 53% of consumers have delayed care for themselves or someone in their household during COVID-19, and 60% of consumers think there is an elevated risk when visiting their providers.

#4. Hospitals have unprecedented goodwill and brand equity.

There is a daily avalanche of positive stories about nurses, physicians, and other hospital caregivers. The level of community goodwill for hospitals has never been higher. The brand equity that health systems have built is extraordinary. Now health systems must think about how to capture that goodwill through affinity programs and loyalty marketing. So many people want to support their local health systems, and we must give them ways to do that online and IRL. Social media communities, affinity marketing groups, membership clubs, participation in hospital foundations – there are many options available.

How do these four “dots” of the week get connected? I think the picture comes into focus when you consider the following. The Quorum bankruptcy highlights how much financial pressure hospitals are under, and that we cannot count on federal stimulus to fill the gap created by COVID-19. And with this, we certainly have to be wary of United’s involvement in the distribution of funds given the data hospitals must submit to qualify. Meanwhile, non-COVID-19 patients are reluctant to use the ED and other hospital services, and that is a huge barrier that Rapid Recovery marketing must help to overcome. And finally, health systems have tremendous goodwill that must be captured and “programmed” so it isn’t fleeting – that goodwill can be leveraged down the line for better payor contracts, federal or state legislative or regulatory issues, and possibly even as an audience for Rapid Recovery marketing. 

There will be more news tomorrow and every day. Right now, the urgency is to start planning for Rapid Recovery - time is of the essence for any health system that wants to create a first-mover advantage.

 

 

April 21, 2020
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