COVID-19 Reading and Resources: Re-Opening Health Care Services

In this week’s COVID-19 Reading and Resources: CMS issued recommendations for the re-opening of health care services; physicians are concerned about declining health conditions while many Americans delay medical care; hospitals communicate safety precautions to boost patient returns.

Posted by Erin George, Senior Advisor

CMS Recommendations

On April 19, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services issued recommendations for the re-opening of health care services in areas with low incidence of COVID-19. CMS says the guidelines “recommend a gradual transition and encourage health care providers to coordinate with local and state public health officials, and to review the availability of personal protective equipment (PPE) and other supplies, workforce availability, facility readiness, and testing capacity when making the decision to re-start or increase in-person care.”

Variation by State

Not surprisingly, we’re seeing variation in the order and timing of service re-openings across states and cities. Hospitals in some states already have the green light to perform elective procedures. Joint replacements began again in Colorado this week; Utah rescinded their elective procedure ban this week as well. Kentucky allowed some health care settings – like dentist offices and physical therapy centers – to re-open on April 27, to be followed by non-emergent surgical procedures on May 6. In Tennessee, Gov. Lee will begin allowing elective inpatient and outpatient procedures this Friday if they meet certain guidelines, including having adequate capacity and PPE and reporting their COVID-19 patient counts.

Doctors Fear Declining Health Conditions

Physicians at hospitals across the country are concerned about lower-than-usual volumes of patients seeking care for conditions that can’t be treated with telemedicine, such as heart attacks and strokes. The Washington Post reports some doctors “worry that illness and mortality from unaddressed health problems may rival the carnage produced in regions less affected by COVID-19.” Modern Healthcare reports similar concerns from oncologists who worry they’ll see worse cancer diagnoses because routine preventive screenings, like mammograms and colonoscopies, have been delayed during the pandemic.

Americans are, Indeed, Waiting

On April 28, the American College of Physicians released the results of a poll confirming clinicians’ observations — nearly a third (29%) of Americans are delaying or avoiding medical care due to concerns of contracting COVID-19. Eighty percent say they fear contracting the coronavirus from another patient or visitor if they visit the emergency room, and nearly 60% are worried about being turned away from a doctor’s office or hospital.

Hospitals Communicate Safety

Hospitals are eager to welcome back stronger patient volumes, with some facing closure if revenues don’t rebound soon. Some are starting to talk openly about wanting patients to return, offering reassurances that hospitals are still open to provide safe, quality care. Hospitals in some parts of Indiana, New York, and Florida are talking with their local media in hopes of educating the public about the safety precautions they are taking and the importance of seeking timely medical care.