CHS reports strong rebound in lower-acuity procedures compared to higher-acuity surgeries

Major hospital chain Community Health Systems has seen a stronger rebound of volumes for lower-acuity services and procedures after vaccinations have taken effect compared to more complex procedures, giving a window into what types of businesses hospitals could expect to return first as the impact of the pandemic ebbs.

“As COVID-19 cases have continued to kind of subside, we see the trend towards improving those volumes back to the pre-pandemic levels here in the not-too-distant future,” said Kevin Hammons, CHS’ chief financial officer, during an interview as part of the RBC Capital Markets Global Healthcare Conference Wednesday.

CHS reported a 14% decline in admissions in the first quarter of the year compared to the first quarter of 2020.

The system’s CEO, Tim Hingtgen, said during the interview that not much has changed in terms of volumes or levels of COVID-19 cases since the earnings report released last month. But, he said, the system expects to see an uptick in higher-acuity service lines especially as the vaccine starts to roll out.

“We have seen, I think, a stronger rebound some of that lower-acuity business once vaccinations have taken effect,” he said. “Patients feel comfortable coming back in for screenings or diagnostics or therapeutic procedures.”

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There has been a little bit more of a lull for inpatient and some outpatient procedures such as orthopedics or spinal procedures, he added.

While vaccinations have been key to patients scheduling such elective procedures again, visitation policies to ensure family members are there for support are also playing a role, Hingtgen said.

Hospitals across the country have continued to face patient volumes below pre-pandemic levels in the first quarter of the year, especially in the early parts of the quarter when COVID-19 surged in January and February in certain parts of the country.

CHS also gave a look at what volumes for emergency rooms could look like. Lower-acuity volume dropped in emergency departments, and a big percentage was uninsured or Medicaid business, Hammons said.

Emergency departments also saw few to no respiratory or flu cases.

“As we move forward at least in the near term, we don’t expect to see much of the flu or lower-acuity respiratory cases returning,” Hammons said.

CHS is also expecting volumes to return in urgent care or walk-in clinics as people sought out care at those facilities rather than going to the hospital for care.