In this past year, COVID-19 has impacted our lives in a hundred ways that we expected and a hundred more that we didn’t. Of course, the healthcare industry was the first to begin changing in response to the pandemic. Sectors of this industry have been affected both positively and negatively. While COVID-19 has caused unemployment, reduced revenues, and has taken a toll on the mental health of individuals everywhere, it has also created a need for new services and innovative practices.
Here are just five healthcare sectors that have been impacted by COVID-19:
- Non-Urgent Surgeries
The cancellation/rescheduling of non-urgent and elective surgeries is easily one of the most significant impacts on the healthcare industry. According to Harvard Business Review, this reduction of non-urgent surgeries even has implications for the national economy. In 2020, the U.S. GDP declined 4.8%, and approximately half of that reduction is due to the deferment of medical care.
Non-Urgent and elective surgeries aren’t just cosmetic, they also include surgeries like hip or knee replacements, the removal of benign tumors, or even c-sections. When you hear “elective surgery,” all it means is that it’s the type of procedure that one can schedule in advance. It’s not as time-sensitive as emergency surgeries, but they are still valuable to a person’s overall quality of life.
This sector saw a reduction in revenue immediately, and the rescheduling of procedures is sure to have long-term implications. A study from McKinsey & Company estimates that it could take anywhere from four to twenty months for care providers to work through the surgical backlog created by the pandemic. The range depends on how dramatically providers can increase productivity in the months after the pandemic. Without an increase in productivity, the situation will only get worse.
- Supporting Services
As a result of the pandemic, care facilities have put expansion and renovations on the back burner. This has a trickle-down effect that impacts supporting service industries. One example is medical gas services. While medical gas inspectors and maintenance personnel are insulated from any swings in the economy due to their regulatory nature, the installation sector of the med gas industry will feel the effects of retracting budgets and postponed expansions.
The first factor is an increase in patients. If a facility were to begin renovations, they would likely need to sacrifice space. Often, renovations and updates make a room/space unsafe and unusable for patients. At a time when every hospital bed is vital, sacrificing space for updates is not an option.
The second factor, of course, is the decrease in revenue and impacts on 2021 budgets. With elective and non-urgent surgeries being put off, the revenue that they bring to hospitals and care facilities is not coming in. To make matters worse, many healthcare facilities had capital expenditures related to Covid preparation that impacted budgets for 2021.
As a result, updates and expansions at this point are rescheduled for 2022 or are being reconsidered completely. If it is not an absolute need, it’s not going to happen right now.
Telemedicine is a service that existed before the pandemic but has now become a priority. Some of the increase has been a result of people reaching out because they exhibit COVID-19 symptoms. Another large portion is from people who may have a cough, cold, or other similar illness but prefer to stay out of the doctor’s office to avoid coronavirus exposure.
Throughout the year, the use of telemedicine has continued to increase at a drastic rate. In the first three months of the 2020, visits increased by 50%; by the 13th week of the year, it increased by 154%. (These percentages reflect the 2020 numbers compared to 2019 numbers from the same period.)
Telemedicine services have become so popular that insurance agencies are scrambling to decide how to cover such visits and whether the coverage should be a permanent offering. BlueCross BlueShield is one of the first insurers to say that they will make coverage of telemedicine and telehealth services permanent. While many sectors of the healthcare industry have been negatively impacted, the increase in telemedicine offerings and coverage is a win.
- Drug and Pharmaceutical Companies
The pandemic increased the demand for, and created a shortage of, drugs prescribed for both COVID and non-COVID uses. According to CIDRAP — the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy — a significant percentage of critical drugs used for COVID-19 patients are experiencing shortages.
There are 40 drugs considered critical for those with COVID-19, and 29 of them are in short supply. That means that 72.5% of the drugs used to treat COVID are not available to patients who desperately need them.
While these drugs are essential for those who have contracted the virus, they are also important for those who have not been infected. One such drug is norepinephrine, which treats low blood pressure and heart failure. This drug is also used to treat people who go into septic shock. Suppliers of norepinephrine drugs are only able to fill about half of the orders from hospitals and care facilities due to the spike in demand.
- Mental Health Services
A study performed by the Center for Disease Control revealed that approximately 40.9% of survey respondents are experiencing or have experienced adverse mental or behavioral health conditions as a result of the pandemic. There has specifically been a significant increase in the percentage of people experiencing anxiety — from 8.1% in the second quarter of 2019 to 25.5% in the same period of 2020 — and an increase in those experiencing depression — 6.5% to 24.3%.
These devastating impacts on mental health have spurred an increase in digital health services and startups. While the necessitating factors are tragic, the openness and vulnerability around discussing mental health and the increase in services has been encouraging. A massive $9.4 billion was invested in mental health services in the first three quarters of 2020, and it’s estimated to reach $12 billion before the end of the year. Compare this to the $7.4 billion invested in 2019 and it’s easy to see the impact.
While the pandemic continues to rage on, it’s impossible to know the full impacts of coronavirus. We’ve already seen the ways that the healthcare industry has changed in the sectors mentioned above — some positively and some negatively. In the coming months, care providers must continue to be flexible and alter their offerings to fit the current needs. Without that innovation, the effects on healthcare businesses everywhere will be devastating.