News | Patient Access

Healthcare News of Note: Providers should continue forward movement on improving digital patient access, survey suggests

News | Patient Access

Healthcare News of Note: Providers should continue forward movement on improving digital patient access, survey suggests

  • The pandemic has cemented patient expectations around convenient access to care, with booking appointments, completing preregistration and making payments online the new baseline.
  • With more than 77% of ICU beds across the country currently being used, many southern states’ ICUs are nearing or already at capacity.
  • In June and July 2021, hospitalizations among unvaccinated adults cost the U.S. healthcare system an estimated $2.3 billion.

1. Providers shouldn’t take their foot off the gas when it comes to improving digital patient access

“The pandemic has cemented patient expectations around convenient access to care,” states a white paper based on a comparison of the results of individual surveys conducted in November 2020 and June 2021 by Experian Health.a

The initial survey of both consumers and providers shows “findings aligned with wider industry reports on the surge in digital patient access services,” while the June survey shows the digital trend continuing, although not as pronounced as early in the pandemic.

“Booking appointments, completing preregistration and making payments online is the new baseline, setting up healthcare with expectations similar to other service sectors,” state the authors. “The findings of our second survey suggest that providers shouldn’t take their foot off the gas.”

Patients on digital access

For patients, the survey findings show:

  • Being able to see a practitioner quickly is their top challenge.
  • Demand for self-scheduling remains high, with 73% of consumers now wanting to be able to schedule their own appointments online, compared with 78% last year.
  • 70% of consumers want a patient portal option to interact with providers.
  • 30% of consumers want to be able to speak to doctors remotely.

“Improving the patient experience is a top priority for 93% of providers, up slightly from 90% in 2020,” state the authors.

Providers on digital access

For providers, the survey findings show:

  • More providers (80%) realize their patients prefer an online registration experience compared with last year (60%).
  • More providers are offering online and mobile scheduling (actual percentages not provided).
  • The number that do not plan to offer self-scheduling has also risen, from 8% to 29%. The authors suggest this is due to some already having systems in place, while others have shifted their priorities.
  • The percentage of providers that believe telehealth will become a permanent feature decreased to 49% in June from 59% in November.

a. 203 providers and 565 healthcare consumers were surveyed in June 2021, compared with 135 providers and 868 healthcare consumers in November 2020.

2. QuoteWizard: More than 77% of ICU beds across U.S. are being used

More than 77% of ICU beds across the country were being used as of Aug. 23, and many southern states’ ICUs “are nearing or already at capacity,” according to an Aug. 24 QuoteWizard article.

To evaluate healthcare capacity, QuoteWizard analysts used data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Kaiser Family Foundation to review each state’s number of ICU beds and physicians per 1,000 people. To calculate the least prepared states for hospital capacity, the analysts generated an aggregate score based on the number of available ICU beds, physicians per capita and current hospital capacity.

“Nearly 90% of ICU beds (as of Aug. 23) in five southern states are currently occupied,” wrote author Nick VinZant. “We also found that southern states had a higher percentage of hospitals experiencing critical staffing shortages, and that the number of children hospitalized with COVID-19 is rising.”

Other key findings from the report include:

  • Georgia, Texas and Idaho currently have the least prepared hospitals.
  • Florida, Texas and Georgia have the highest numbers of pediatric patients in the hospital with COVID-19.

3. Peterson-KFF: In June and July, COVID-19 hospitalizations among unvaccinated adults cost the U.S. health system more than $2B

In June and July 2021, hospitalizations among unvaccinated adults cost the U.S. health system an estimated $2.3 billion, according to an Aug. 20 Peterson-Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) Health System Tracker report.

Number of preventable hospitalizations

Analysis of CDC data by Peterson-KFF researchers indicates that among unvaccinated adults in the U.S., COVID-19 hospitalizations totaled:

  • 37,000 in June, with an estimated total cost of $0.7B
  • 76,000 in July, with an estimated total cost of  $1.5B

Analysts “used counts of adult hospitalizations with confirmed COVID-19 in recent months reported to HHS to estimate preventable hospitalization costs for unvaccinated adults,” the authors wrote. 

They focused “on hospitalizations of adults (ages 18+) with COVID-19 because many children are still ineligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, and even those minors who are eligible may need parental consent to get the vaccine.”

The report details the four steps the Peterson-KFF team used to estimate the number of preventable hospitalizations.

Implications of costs to treat avoidable COVID hospitalizations

The implications of avoidable COVID hospitalization costs among unvaccinated people are also reviewed in the report.

“The monetary cost of treating unvaccinated people for COVID-19 is borne not only by patients but also by society more broadly, including taxpayer-funded public programs and private insurance premiums paid by workers, businesses, and individual purchasers,” the authors state.

“Only a small share of the cost of a COVID-19 hospitalization is paid directly by patients themselves. In our analysis of privately insured patients hospitalized with pneumonia, the typical out-of-pocket payment was about $1,300.”

Although $1,300 is a significant amount for most patients to pay, “it is far less than the amount covered by public and private insurance coverage,” the authors noted.

“While real-time data on the cost of all COVID-19 hospitalizations are not publicly available, various sources point to an average hospitalization cost of around $20,000.”

HFMA bonus content

Review HFMA President and CEO Joseph J. Fifer’s explanation of why HFMA is requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination for in-person attendees at the 2021 Annual Conference.

Read the Aug. 25 article, “Healthcare AI experts discuss the need to improve data accessibility and validation,” by Nick Hut, HFMA senior editor.


About the Author

Deborah Filipek

is a senior editor with HFMA, Westchester, Ill.

Sign up for a free guest account and get access to five free articles every month.


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