When communities experience spikes in COVID-19 cases, healthcare organizations often push out appointments for routine care and elective procedures to prevent further spread of the virus and to free up care capacity for COVID-19 patients. Likewise, patients often delay preventative care visits due to safety concerns and fears of contracting COVID-19.
However, preventative care visits are crucial—both for patients who need preventive and consistent healthcare and for providers who rely upon these visits for patient acquisition and retention. While the COVID-19 pandemic and exposure to the virus are still concerns, further delaying preventive services may present a larger medical concern as diseases and conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer can go undiagnosed, unmonitored, and untreated.
Below, we outline the importance of timely annual wellness visits, the financial value they provide, and how one of our clients recently utilized our Intelligent Scheduling and Communication & Reminders solutions to boost preventive care visits.
Preventative Care Screenings and Visits Have Decreased
Patients who defer routine office visits for preventive services or chronic disease management are at risk of receiving more serious diagnoses at later stages of illness, which can negatively impact care outcomes.
"Many of the most common primary care diagnoses—things like hypertension, hyperlipidemia, and diabetes—can be avoided or treated with early diagnosis and proper preventative care. However, if left untreated, these conditions can lead to complications like heart disease, nerve damage, kidney damage, or even increased mortality."
— Definitive Healthcare, 10 Most Common Diagnoses and Procedures in Primary Care
A study by KFF revealed that cancer screenings declined significantly in the first quarter of 2020. Breast cancer and cervical cancer screenings declined by 94 percent, and colon cancer screenings dropped by 86 percent. Another study by Komodo Health confirmed a 65 percent or greater decline in other important preventive screenings such as pap smears, cholesterol tests, and hemoglobin A1c screenings.
Even more, a study by Definitive Healthcare compared healthcare screenings and outcomes from June 2020 to September 2020 to the same period in 2019. The study uncovered:
21 percent increase of heart disease patients being diagnosed with type II diabetes with complications
6.5 percent increase in severe kidney disease/failure for heart disease patients and a 7 percent increase for diabetes patients
These studies coincide with a new study by Providence, which suggests that deferred care has led to higher inpatient mortality rates. Researchers examined hospitalization rates and changes in in-hospital mortality at 51 hospitals across six western states. The study specifically evaluated patients without COVID-19 seeking emergency care for 30 conditions during the first ten months of the pandemic.
The results showed that while unplanned hospitalizations declined steeply during two major COVID-19 surges (down by 47.5 percent during the first surge and by 25 percent in the second), adjusted in-hospital mortality saw increases of more than 20 percent during both periods.
The Importance of Timely Annual Wellness Visits for Preventative Care
Together, these studies reinforce the urgency for and importance of preventive care services—especially for vulnerable populations such as those with chronic conditions and seniors. Yet, just like other patients who delayed preventive care throughout the pandemic, Medicare patients failed to schedule their annual wellness visits (AWVs).
Covered by Medicare at no cost to the patient, these preventive care visits review medical basics, assess health risks, and can also be used to address any health concerns that patients want to present to their provider.
Canceled or delayed annual wellness visits for Medicare patients can mean missing important health and wellness benefits while also depleting an important revenue stream for providers. In fact, that was the reason one Stericycle client contacted us to execute a patient communication and scheduling program.
The Financial Value of Missed Preventative Care Visits
Preventative care visits have an important effect on a practice's bottom line. For practitioners, preventative care visits have a reimbursement rate of $120 to $170 per patient visit. This number can increase when additional services such as advance care planning, depression screening, tobacco and alcohol misuse and counseling, and more are performed as part of the annual wellness visit.
Additionally, as long as the health emergency declaration is in effect, Medicare preventative care visits are included in the 1135 telehealth waiver. This gives providers an additional way to contact and check up on the health of senior patients—and to recoup revenue from AWVs.
Depending on the size of their Medicare population, preventative care visits play an important role in the financial health and well-being of practices by helping drive patient loyalty, positive health outcomes, and practice revenue.
Integrated Patient Communication and Scheduling Campaign Boosts Preventative Care Visits in Tight Timeframe
When a health system in the Northeast noticed that the number of existing patients enrolled in its annual wellness visit schedule had declined significantly, it contacted Stericycle. The first contact came in October 2020 with hopes of reaching out to and scheduling appointments with eligible patients before year-end when the AWV benefit expired. With the holidays looming, time was tight to contact and see patients before December 31, 2020.
Working together, we developed an integrated communications campaign that combined outbound and inbound communications to make a significant impact in little time. The time from the system's initial inquiry to implementation and the start of the campaign was less than a month. In fact, the actual project was designed, coordinated, trained, and live in just ten days.
The campaign began with our Stericycle Communication & Reminders solution, which sent text messages to eligible patients alerting them to expect a call within 24 hours to schedule their annual wellness visit. Texts were used to prime the patient and encourage patients to accept phone calls from Stericycle's medical call center services team.
Next, our outbound agents called and offered an option of either virtual or in-person visits to more than 3,400 patients (patients were called twice when necessary). Finally, our Intelligent Scheduling solution was used to build online schedules with specified availability on 12 provider schedules.
We were not only able to meet the timeframe, but we also created a successful campaign. Here are the results:
746 patients (25 percent) scheduled and attended their appointments by the December 31 deadline.
The average age of patients responding to the campaign was 75 years old, supporting the view that patients of all ages benefit from communications solutions that combine both digital and live components.
If you're interested in creating a similar campaign like the one mentioned above, contact us here.
While we continue to witness surges in COVID-19 due to variants, providers must continue to provide preventive care visits, whether that be in-person or virtual. This will ensure more positive health outcomes for patients while also increasing providers' bottom lines. If you'd like to learn more about our Communication & Reminders solution, watch the video below.