The operating room is like the thermometer of a health care organization’s financial health, a fact that the COVID-19 crisis has only magnified. It accounts for more than half of all hospital revenue, and any impact on surgical services, positive or negative, can have a disproportionate effect on a hospital’s overall financial health. New data from Caresyntax reveals which hospitals were hit hardest throughout the course of 2020 — and importantly, what they’ll need to do to recover.
The State of Surgery During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Research from McKinsey & Company released in October 2020 painted an illuminating picture of the general trends in surgical caseloads during the first several months of the pandemic. From March through July 2020, hospitals saw, on average, a 35 percent decline in surgical cases compared to 2019. It is estimated that it will take up to two years for hospitals to work through the resulting backlog, even operating at 110-percent capacity. In large part due to this decline in surgical caseloads, hospitals lost upwards of $122 billion in 2020.
This problem is not unique to the United States. Most countries that report to the World Health Organization (WHO) decided to postpone elective surgeries at the start of the pandemic, creating an ever-growing backlog in elective surgical cases. Before the COVID-19 pandemic is over, the backlog will represent tens of millions of canceled or delayed surgeries worldwide. Coupled with the now widespread adoption of virtual care, surgery will likely drive an even greater portion of organizational revenue in the post-COVID-19 era, making an effective surgery recovery strategy vital to success.
New research from my colleagues and I on the performance of hospitals in the U.S. adds important context to this narrative: hospitals that harnessed data analytics performed significantly better than those that didn’t. These findings offer a roadmap to recovery not only for U.S. hospitals but facilities worldwide.
Our research found that hospitals that used Caresyntax’s CX-INSIGHT platform to guide decision-making in 2020 completed 16 percent more surgical cases than those that didn’t. Even in April when COVID-19 cases skyrocketed and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) recommended postponing non-emergent surgeries, leading to a dramatic overall decrease, Caresyntax customers completed seven percent more surgical cases than the national average.
Other findings include:
- In April 2020, elective case volumes, in particular, fell a staggering 193 percent compared to 2019. Throughout the summer, as COVID-19 cases dipped and many restrictions lifted, hospitals worked through much of the backlog, and elective surgeries rebounded — although still under 2019’s numbers.
- While elective cases rebounded, urgent cases continued a constant downward trend throughout the year, with 33-percent fewer cases in December 2020 compared to December 2019. There are a few possible explanations why. Some studies suggest the drop in cases was due to patient fear of infection and delayed diagnoses due to deferred care. It’s also possible that the initial cancellation of elective surgeries allowed surgeons to work through any existing backlog of urgent cases.
- Urban hospitals bounced back much quicker in the second half of 2020 from surgical caseload drops than rural hospitals. In April 2020, rural and urban hospitals both saw staggering declines in surgical volume: 126 percent and 123 percent compared to 2019, respectively. By October 2020, however, rural hospitals were seeing a 19 percent decline, while urban hospitals were experiencing only a 14 percent drop.
The Path Forward Post-Pandemic: Drive with Data
These findings are a testament to the power of data collection, analysis, and insight in the operating room. By collecting surgical data and producing actionable insights from it, hospitals that worked with Caresyntax sustained caseloads that were closer to normal during the worst of the pandemic. They were able to leverage real-time data analytics to more granularly understand their market climate week over week, tailor plans to restore surgical backlogs based on customer behavior and scheduling, and focus on increasing capacity for surgery by optimizing workflow and reducing turnover time.
Considering the importance of surgery for the overall financial success of a hospital, and the growing evidence of its tremendous value, the operating room remains opaque with challenging data. While data analytics has consumed nearly every aspect of our lives, from business to social media to sports, the operating room stands as one of the lone places where not enough is being done to understand uncovered data.
Despite the direct link between procedural volume and hospital financial health, less than 50 percent of health care organizations surveyed by McKinsey & Company indicated a willingness to take necessary steps to increase surgical capacity and address the growing backlog. Paradoxically, however, 80 percent of those same systems believed they could grow market share in the next year. Making no changes and expecting a quick recovery isn’t a viable solution. One cannot put their head in the sand and simultaneously plan where they’re going.
The first step to hospital recovery is the collection and analysis of data. Organizations that effectively leverage data to optimize surgery can see rapid, quantifiable, and sustained improvements in metrics that directly link to operational efficiency and associated financial benefits. The current situation presents a unique opportunity for hospitals to implement new tools to recalibrate how surgical services are evaluated, delivered, and experienced by the patient and provider. Doing this now will accelerate resolving the backlog, better positioning the organization to handle the day-to-day schedule moving forward with unprecedented confidence and clarity.
Users of CX-INSIGHT are unequivocally in a stronger position for a more successful, faster rebound by being able to create a data-driven, proactive plan to address surgical backlogs while re-establishing pre-COVID-19 surgical volumes. Other hospitals that head down the path now to leverage historical and current data will enable health care organizations to create a robust, data-driven, surgical management plan to overcome the backlog created by the pandemic. A data-first strategy will also allow hospitals to better prepare for future disasters and re-establish a solid revenue stream sooner. Who knows? They may even grow market share.