Not everything will return to pre-pandemic levels. Some changes will remain post-pandemic, including a sustained shift to virtual care. In addition, rising acuity and chronic diseases, trends that were occurring prior to the pandemic, will place increased demands on the healthcare workforce and across the system of care, McDowell predicts.
Because low-acuity visits are expected to shift from emergency departments to urgent care clinics, physician offices and other locations, by 2029, hospital emergency departments are forecast to see 4.8 million fewer patient visits annually than in 2019, representing about a 5% decline.
LASTING IMPACT OF COVID-19 INCLUDES MAKING VIRTUAL VISITS ROUTINE
The pandemic will leave a lasting impact, creating an ongoing demand for specialist care required to support chronic COVID-impacted conditions, such as neurology and pulmonology, the forecast concludes.
The pandemic sparked a new interest in virtual care, or telehealth, and made it more commonplace. The forecast predicts this trend is here to stay. It says one in three healthcare visits will occur virtually by 2029, with the move to virtual care taking place across services such as behavioral health, medical specialties, women’s health and cancer.
Not surprisingly, the shift to virtual care means a decline for in-person visits for evaluation and care management (E&M) services. By 2024, E&M is predicted to see a 19% increase in visits shifting to virtual, and that percentage jumps to 29% by 2029.
A MOVE FROM HOSPITALS TO AMBULATORY SURGERY CENTERS
Hospital outpatient departments (HOPD) and ambulatory surgery centers (ASCs) will continue to experience rapid patient growth, according to the forecast. That will add up to a patient volume that’s 15 million people higher in 2029 than in 2019. “This shift will help drive down the cost of surgical procedures,” the forecast states.
The forecast expects ASCs to experience:
- 14% growth in five years, from 32 million patients in 2019 to 36.5 million in 2024.
- 25% growth in 10 years, up to 40.1 million patients.