Kaufman Hall: Hospitals faced slight patient volume declines in April compared to March

Patients in a hospital waiting room
Patient volumes for hospitals increased dramatically in April compared to the same month in 2020 but were slightly down compared to the month before, a new report found. (Getty/SuwanPhoto)

Hospital patient volumes in April saw a major increase compared to the same month in 2020 but were below March 2021’s levels, a new report from Kaufman Hall found.

The report, released Monday (PDF), shows the volatility and uncertainty the hospital industry still faces as facilities recover from the pandemic.

“While we anticipate the data in the months ahead will show additional gains over low levels seen in early 2020, overall margins remain low and fluctuations month-over-month convey continued uncertainties for hospitals, as they work to recover from a profoundly challenging pandemic,” said Erik Swanson, Kaufman Hall’s senior vice president of data and analytics, in a statement.

Hospital’s adjusted discharges were up 66.4% in April compared to the same month in 2020. Adjusted patient days were also up nearly 65% in April and emergency room visits by 57.2% compared to April 2020.

Hospitals saw volumes plummet in March and April at the onset of the pandemic as they were forced to cancel or postpone elective procedures to preserve capacity to fight the virus, and patients were hesitant to head to the hospital for fear of contracting the virus.

But patient volumes were slightly down in April compared to March 2021. For instance, adjusted discharges were down nearly 1% and patient days by 1%.

RELATED: Altarum: March health spending rebounds by double digits from drop in same month in 2020

A bright spot, though, was emergency department visits, which were hit especially hard during the pandemic and have been slow to recover for some systems. Emergency department visits were up 5.3% compared to March.

Revenues have also rebounded for systems since the nadir in April but are still fluid.

Gross operating revenue that does not include relief funding created by the CARES Act is up 16.7% in April year to date and 37.1% compared to the same month in 2020. However, operating revenue was down nearly 2% in April compared to March, Kaufman found.

But while revenue has declined somewhat month over month, expense costs were down in a bright spot for the industry.

Expenses have grown considerably for hospitals throughout the pandemic due to an increase in costs for supplies like personal protective equipment, ventilators and drugs as well as higher costs for staff due to higher rates for temporary nurses.

Total expenses were up 13% in April compared to the same month in 2020, and total labor expenses were up nearly 10% year over year.

RELATED: Hospital groups press HHS to give out rest of relief funds, extend key deadline

But compared to March, the expenses were down about 3%.

The report, which relies on data from more than 900 hospitals, underscores the precarious position hospitals still find themselves in as they continue to recover from the pandemic.

COVID-19 cases started to fall in April as the vaccine continues to be administered, but the full recovery could be uneven, Kaufman said.

“Numerous factors will influence the pace of recovery, including the trajectory of vaccination efforts and the continued spread of COVID-19 variants,” the report said. “Healthcare leaders must remain vigilant in efforts to monitor and improve performance as they move forward through the second year of an ongoing pandemic—the end of which remains yet to be determined.”