New research shows patient fears will limit the return to surgery

Article first appeared in Beckers Hospital Review June 23, 2020

As the coronavirus pandemic began to spread, most hospitals stopped doing elective surgeries to create capacity for the surge of infected patients.

Now, as most states begin to reopen businesses, over 90% of hospitals have restarted these surgeries and those that haven’t will do so within weeks.

Soon enough, the healthcare sector will be back to running at full capacity. However, “full capacity” these days looks different than it did before. To understand this better, we commissioned market research to find out what U.S. healthcare leaders really think about the return to surgery. Of 102 who responded to the survey, this is what they said.

Patient safety measures introduce new operational challenges

When restarting elective surgeries, hospital leaders’ top operational concern is making sure patients feel safe enough to schedule and come in for their procedures. This was followed by concerns related to screening patients for COVID-19, and prioritizing and scheduling surgeries. Addressing these concerns is a top priority, but it requires a number of changes that can often lead to operational challenges.

For instance, many health organizations have reserved separate operating rooms and intensive care units for COVID-19 patients. Among U.S. hospitals, 68% have dedicated specific floors or areas for COVID care, and 23% have dedicated separate sites. The impact of such segregation is that 70% of hospitals are currently running at less than 75% capacity.

There are also increased costs associated with properly separating patients, additional cleaning, maintaining PPE, and doing testing. Accordingly, 84% of hospitals are looking for cost savings to improve surgery profitability, with supply chain cuts and virtual care deployments being the top two areas where they would look to achieve cost reduction.

Virtual care solutions can ease patient fears 

68% of respondents believe patient fear will delay or limit demand for surgery, with that delay extending for at least the next 6 months. The impact of this is likely to be felt in cancellations. While 87% of hospitals had a surgery cancellation rate of less than 10% before the pandemic, only 34% believe they will be able to maintain that level. Almost 15% anticipate cancellation rates topping 25%.

The reluctance of patients to return to the hospital is a profound challenge for the healthcare sector and they will need to rethink care delivery to drive surgery volumes back up.

Demand for virtual care solutions has skyrocketed in response to this need – not only to reduce cancellations and save costs, but also to streamline surgical operations: 71% of leaders believe there is a significant opportunity to fast track patients through to surgery using virtual care.

Many hospitals have already been utilizing virtual care or telehealth solutions in some capacity to engage patients outside the hospital, but most do not feel they have the appropriate tools to effectively deliver virtual care at scale. For instance, hospitals universally use electronic health records for information gathering and storage, but only 32% of them think that these tools are suited to virtual care and telehealth.

While some forms of virtual care – like video consultations – are on the rise, they are only a part of the answer. What is really needed for safe, efficient care is a more comprehensive approach to the virtual patient journey. At Lumeon, we have been working with our customers to provide virtual care solutions such as Pre-Operative Readiness, Remote Patient Monitoring and Virtual Check In. The research we conducted shows just how valuable these types of solutions will be for hospitals trying to reduce patient fear and ramp up surgeries.

Lumeon has developed these virtual care solutions to help hospitals better serve their patients, maintain safety, streamline processes, and grow out of the pandemic-related slowdown even stronger than before.

View the survey findings and learn more about how hospital leaders are thinking about restarting elective surgeries by downloading the research summary here.

Lumeon helps health systems take control of their care delivery processes by coordinating and automating care journeys, across disparate care settings, to operate with predictability and efficiency.

Rick Halton is chief marketing and product officer for Lumeon. Rick has extensive experience in both the U.S. and European healthcare markets at innovative start-ups and global corporates, helping them accelerate their revenue streams through product innovation and engaging marketing.