It has been over a year since the COVID-19 pandemic started in the United States. The COVID-19 pandemic significantly altered how pediatric practices engage with patients. While the changes were significant, pediatric practice leaders and owners learned how to optimize the situation. The wearing of masks and social distancing in the winter of 2020-2021 helped with managing the spread of COVID-19 and also dramatically reduced the number of sick visits at pediatric offices. A graph below shows the overall impact of total visits per month through the end of the first quarter of 2021.
The months with red are the months that had the highest drop in visits compared to the previous year (April and May 2020 and Winter 2020-2021).
The % of sick to well visits varies by pediatric office. Prior to COVID-19, the number of sick visits, was usually more than the schedule well visits for the day. Most established pediatric offices, pre-COVID, would schedule well visits and fill the remaining schedule with sick visits.
The time needed each day to schedule sick visits was dramatically reduced in the 2020-2021 winter season compared to previous winters since there were less sick patients. The opportunity in the winter of 2020-2021 was to fill over 70% of the schedule with well visits. Practices that were able to operate on this approach were able to maintain overall revenue as compared to the previous winter season (2019-2020).
There are many learnings from the COVID-19 pandemic related to operating a pediatric practice. One key learning is that the COVID pandemic further confirmed that the core visit role of a pediatric office is the well visit and pediatric vaccinations. Pediatric practice leaders and owners should become even more focused on scheduling well visits for patients that are due or overdue for an appointment as well as patients behind on their vaccinations. An approach that led to both good patient care and financial outcomes included pediatric practice leaders selecting a point staff member each day to leverage the tools in the PediatricXpress system related to patients due for well visits, chronic care condition follow-up and vaccines. The point individual(s) would then make outbound calls to patients and schedule the appointments.
While the tools provide a list of patients due for a well visit based on the patients last well visit, the outcomes in total patients scheduled is dependent on a practice leader dedicating a staff member time to call and schedule these patients. Another approach that helped with balancing clinical needs with financial health of the practice is for the practice to leverage Telehealth for certain visits (determined by the pediatric providers). Telehealth, in general, continues to be covered and this tool helps both patients and the practice.
Operating and managing a pediatric practice since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic was challenging from a medical and business perspective. This environment requires pediatric practice leaders to enhance their flexibility, learning and resilience. In 2021 there is much hope and optimism for pediatric practices due to the COVID-19 vaccines becoming broadly available.