How To Prepare For Challenges Facing Emergency Departments in 2021

While the state of EM is always unpredictable, COVID-19 has made it even harder to prepare for challenges facing emergency departments.

While the state of emergency medicine is always unpredictable, COVID-19 has made it even harder to determine where we may be in a day, a week, a month, or a year.

We don’t always know what to expect, but we can prepare our EDs for challenges we may face in the coming year – both while COVID-19 is still in existence and through the hopeful slowdown of the pandemic.

Here, we will discuss the challenges we may face in the coming year and how to prepare for them to ensure our EDs can continue to thrive.

Post-COVID Year One: What is a Challenge Facing Emergency Medicine?

COVID-19 is not over, and we’re still experiencing spikes and lulls in our cases from behind ER doors. 

We are hopeful for a pandemic slowdown in 2021, but we are still reaping the prior year’s consequences and will continue to encounter hurdles throughout the year.

Difficulty in Patient Bill Collection

During this challenging pandemic period, ED revenue is becoming more difficult to collect

Just before March of 2020, unemployment rates in the United States hovered around 3.5%. By April and May, they skyrocketed to nearly 15%. While the rates have steadily decreased since then as businesses have adjusted to a new standard, they remain above what they were, at almost 7%.

With these increased unemployment rates and no immediate return to normalcy in direct sight, patients are more likely to be self-pay and unable to afford their mandatory care. 

Not only is revenue collection a challenge, but patients are left to decide whether the financial constraint is more or less dire than their ailments potential diagnoses. This choice, along with other factors, may be another reason for decreased ER visits.

The Continuation of Decreased Emergency Room Visits

We continue to see fewer visits from patients with specific concerns as fear resumes its role in deciding whether to visit the ER. In 2020, DuvaSawko saw a 45-50% drop in emergency patient visits when COVID-19 became prevalent at the start of the year.

According to a 24-emergency-department study, patient volume during the pandemic decreased by 41.5% and 63.5% in Colorado and New York, respectively. Across all healthcare systems, the ED visits decreased by over 40%.

On top of reduced or late visits for potentially life-threatening symptoms, once these patients’ ailments worsen, the visit that may have once been a minor treatment intensifies into something more severe. Once a case is more urgent and life-threatening, the ED staff must pool resources to treat the patient, taking away from the in-and-out flow that once allowed quicker turnaround.

Fear is a primary factor of these reduced visits. Fear of contracting the virus from a visit to a place where there is no doubt the virus exists; fear of long wait times due to preoccupied staff; or fear of not having the funds to pay for treatment. 

There are steps we can take as a successful ED to ensure we can continue to help our patients in the most efficient way possible and collect the revenue required to flourish.

How To Prepare for Challenges of 2021

If there is one thing we have learned in this past year of ups and downs, it’s the importance of metrics and having a full understanding of the numbers that matter. 

Whether it’s statistics on how much each patient costs the ED, the amount of time it takes to process a patient, or the amount of time they have to wait to be seen – knowing and understanding these statistics is just one group of numbers you should be studying.

Keep Abreast of Trends In Your Geographic Region

Watching the numbers is vital for internal organizational processes and external factors that can affect your ED as well. It’s essential to know and understand what is going on around your area at all times, especially when any significant changes can and will immediately impact your ED’s ability to fulfill its obligations and run smoothly.

Stay on top of the trends to know how many COVID cases are in your region to be able to better estimate the effect on the ED. There is a wealth of information available to have a precise understanding of potential influxes in patients and what types of needs they may have.

If your area is seeing an increase in COVID-19 cases, you can be more readily prepared for the effect you’ve seen it have on your ED. 

Maintain a Close Relationship With Hospital Administration

While it may seem like stakeholders and board members have the most invested in your ED’s success, it’s essential to keep a close relationship with your hospital administration to have the utmost operational efficiency. 

While your ED may have its own internal operations, streamlining the processes from within the department and throughout the hospital is crucial.

Create a comprehensive plan for how your ED will handle an increased patient load versus a decreased patient load and what to expect during each scenario. Everyone has a common goal of being efficient, helping patients, and growing available funds.

Know your numbers here as well. Work with the ED and hospital administration to use real-time data to make more educated decisions. Know what the touch-points are and how long each step of the patient intake process necessitates. From here, you can learn where your ED needs further considerations for improved productivity and better preparation for any challenges to come.

Partner With a Strong EM Billing Partner

DuvaSawko manages your ED’s revenue cycle to ensure you can recoup the most money possible.

Through identifying lost revenue, mitigating compliance risks, and increasing efficiencies to collect every dollar possible, DuvaSawko helps ensure your ED is getting the most funds feasible during this unpredictable time.

Billing collection is a constant challenge in emergency medicine, no matter what is transpiring in the world. The addition of a global pandemic creating decreased ER visits while possibly inundating other hospital units makes the collection process even more difficult.

Now, more than ever, it’s vital to streamline your practice’s efforts in collecting revenue to secure the most funds possible and remain productive. 

We have shown EM practices how to positively impact revenues by between 10 and 30% annually. For more information on DuvaSawko’s billing and coding solutions, dedicated account managers, and proprietary software solution, contact us today!

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