The pandemic placed significant strains on emergency departments as fluctuations in demand caused both financial and operational instability. March to May 2020 saw 50% of predicted volume, while June through December reached 70% of expected ED volume. At the same time, individuals presenting to the ED with heart attacks and strokes were nearly three-fourths fewer than predicted, while cases were typically more severe and resulted in higher admission rates.
With vaccinations underway, we are beginning to see the end of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, predictions to when the healthcare systems can expect normal volume are mixed. Dr. Anthony Fauci predicts that if at least 75% of the population is vaccinated by the end of Q2, things may return to “normal” by the end of the year1. Other predictions are much more conservative, urging hospitals to expect a continuation of fewer ED visits and hospital admissions than pre-pandemic levels. This trend is expected to continue throughout 2021 and will last as long as patients do not feel comfortable entering an ED. Experts believe that maintaining agile and innovative patient engagement, care delivery, and operational strategies will help hospitals manage in the face of continued uncertainty.
Agile operational strategies can include establishing a partnership with ED management companies to outsource ED providers. Even before the pandemic, ED management companies were commonly used by hospitals to fill provider positions that were difficult to fill. Smaller ED management companies are uniquely positioned to meet the distinct needs of each hospital partner. For large and small hospitals alike who experienced drastic changes in patient census levels, ED management companies help to bring compassionate providers of high quality to their ED, and they have the knowledge required to efficiently implement innovative technology to improve process follow.
ED management companies can assist and guide hospitals on the implementation of tools like throughput technology and remote patient monitoring to better meet the needs of their patients. EDs commonly face throughput issues, creating long patient wait times, overcrowding, and patient stress. However, throughput technologies provide an overview of all patients waiting to be seen, allowing physicians to request hospitalists to evaluate any patient for admission. The improved communication results in better patient experiences, reduces bottlenecks, errors, and delays throughout the ED.
At the same time, remote patient monitoring addresses fluctuations in patient demand and can be used to ensure that both admitted and ED patients receive quality, timely care. Providers can follow up with patients after discharge, allowing them to see more patients in the ED. Through telehealth-enabled remote patient monitoring, patients benefit from improved outcomes when physicians ensure they are adhering to post-treatment plans. Remote patient monitoring and telehealth fill the gaps when patients are unable to or reluctant to make in-person appointments. In addition, telehealth reduces preventable ED visits leading to less crowded EDs with long wait times.
Finding the right ED management partner will help hospitals address current and future needs. Near-term fluctuations in patient volume will continue to test hospitals’ ability to adapt, while the possibility of a resurgence in COVID-19 cases as variants emerge has the potential to further impact ED volume. ED management partners are instrumental in the implementation of technologies necessary to improve service delivery to patients and identifying qualified providers to deliver care.