Charity Care

Healthcare News of Note: Fewer patients translates to a small reduction in charity care spend for hospitals

March 31, 2021 7:49 pm
  • An analysis found that large not-for-profit health systems dedicated 1.4% of expenses to charity care in CY20 compared with 1.6% in 2019.
  • A new infographic highlights the latest research on physician burnout and moral injury.
  • A handful of healthcare organizations are testing the efficacy of 5G use in patient care.

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve found these industry news stories that should be of interest to healthcare finance professionals.

1. Fewer patients means less charity care spending by country’s largest health systems

A March 26 Modern Healthcare article states, “The COVID-19 pandemic sunk hospital volumes in 2020. For most of the country’s largest health systems, fewer patients meant providing less free or discounted care.”

Analyzing financial filings, Modern Healthcare found “the top 15 not-for-profit health systems by revenue for which data were available dedicated 1.4% of expenses in calendar 2020 to charity care, the industry’s term for free or reduced-price services for patients who meet financial eligibility criteria. That’s compared with 1.6% in calendar 2019.

“Those 15 health systems spent an average of $203.7 million on charity care in calendar 2020, compared with $216.5 million in 2019.”

For each of the 15 health systems, the article provides data on charity care spending as a share of expenses in CY19 and CY20 and the percentage change in charity care spending during that span.

2. New multipage infographic compiles latest research on physician burnout and moral injury

On March 22, the National Institute for Health Care Management (NIHCM) Foundation published a comprehensive, multipage infographic, “Physician Burnout & Moral Injury:  The Hidden Health Care Crisis.” It contains the latest data from a variety of sources, including the World Health Organization, the National Academy of Medicine, Mental Health America, Medscape, The Physicians Foundation and more.

“More than 70 percent of physicians say they are experiencing burnout, which takes a toll on their health and quality of life, not to mention the impact it has on their patients,” states the NIHCM Data Insights report. “Some experts have predicted that if left unaddressed, burnout will further erode the mental health of physicians and undermine patient care and the health care system.

“This infographic explores physician burnout and moral injury both before and during COVID-19, top causes for burnout, the mental health stigma that still exists in the medical community, the impact for patients and the health care system, and what can be done to address this growing crisis.”

Among the insights provided in the infographic are:

Top five physician specialties experiencing burnout*

  • Critical Care
  • Rheumatology
  • Infectious disease
  • Urology
  • Pulmonary medicine

Top five work settings for experiencing burnout*

  • Large integrated systems
  • Outpatient clinics
  • Office-based multispecialty group practices
  • Nonhospital academic settings
  • Hospitals

*Source: Medscape, ‘Death by 1000 cuts’: Medscape National Physician Burnout & Suicide Report, Jan. 22, 2021

3. Healthcare organizations testing the efficacy of 5G use

A handful of early adopters are testing the efficacy of 5G use in healthcare, reports a March 20 Modern Healthcare article.

According to author Jessica Kim Cohn, researchers are investigating prospective applications of the technology, including whether:

  • Virtual reality (VR) delivered through a 5G network can help reduce chronic pain and anxiety for hospice patients
  • Surgeons can provide lifesaving vascular surgery from afar via a remotely controlled robotic surgical system

The article states, “A small number of healthcare organizations in recent years have struck partnerships with telecommunications companies to try out 5G—the newest generation of wireless internet—for an expansive roster of innovative tech projects, including programs related to augmented and virtual reality, robot-assisted telesurgery, and data processing.

“The hope is that 5G will offer a significant improvement over 4G and other types of internet infrastructure, where many of those projects are already in use today. The 5G technology standard is expected to ‘support higher density with faster speeds,’ said Danny Kim, director of information technology at the Lawrence J. Ellison Institute for Transformative Medicine of USC.

“The institute is testing out 5G at a new cancer research and treatment facility it opened last year, making it one of the healthcare organizations taking the lead to try to figure out the best applications for 5G.”

As detailed in the article, other uses of 5G by healthcare organizations include:

  • The VA Palo Alto Health Care System in California, testing whether augmented reality paired with 5G could improve surgical planning by quickly turning CT and MRI scans into detailed 3D images.
  • The Emory Healthcare Innovation Hub in Atlanta “started laying the groundwork for a ‘connected ambulance’ project that uses 5G,”  in which an ambulance is outfitted with imaging equipment that rapidly transmits data to an ED physician for analysis, allowing patients suffering from a stroke to be more quickly diagnosed.

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