- Concern about the implications of deferred care continues as healthcare organizations establish their strategies for a post-pandemic landscape.
- Service lines where the impact of deferred care is especially significant include oncology, cardiology and behavioral health.
- Hospitals and health systems can mitigate the effects of deferred care by making best use of their workforce and technology.
As the healthcare industry emerges from the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s struggling to gauge and address the impact of deferred care.
If nothing else, most everyone agrees the issue will have significant consequences for population health as more patients return to the fold after choosing to stay away from healthcare settings or being forced to postpone procedures over the last two years.
“Really what it’s done is create a population of people who have conditions they would never have developed in a pre-pandemic environment,” said Chris DeRienzo, MD, senior vice president and system chief medical and chief quality officer for Raleigh, N.C.-based WakeMed Health & Hospitals.
HFMA published a groundbreaking cover story that anticipated the looming issue of deferred care in late 2020. Over the ensuing months, the challenges for clinical operations have only become more daunting, said Linda Hand, CEO of the predictive analytics company Prealize Health.
That’s because there have been fewer shutdowns and operational restrictions than there were during the pandemic’s first year, meaning hospitals have been stretched to provide close to their normal array of services while also caring for COVID-19 patients. They've also had to expand operations to include COVID-19 vaccination programs and testing centers while coping with the pandemic’s well-documented impact on the workforce.
"And now you've got that deferred care trying to come back now that it's more safe," Hand said. "But they're overwhelmed."
“At one point I recall speaking with members of our inpatient team, and they said [that] as our COVID census began to come down, we’re just getting backfills with people who are just as sick with something other than COVID,” DeRienzo said.