COVID-19 threatens rheumatology practices amid plunging patient volume, revenue
Rheumatology practices across the United States have reported significant decreases in patient visits and revenue as a result of COVID-19, losses which have contributed to staff furloughs and endangered the sustainability of some practices, according to survey data presented during a webinar hosted by United Rheumatology.
“Since March 15, we have all lived a life of adaptation,” Max I. Hamburger, MD, founder and executive chairman of United Rheumatology and managing partner at Rheumatology Associates of Long Island, said during the “On Survival and Resilience: Managing A Rheumatology Practice Through the COVID-19 Pandemic” webinar.
“Our data collection capabilities here at United Rheumatology have proved invaluable; in a few minutes, we will share some of the data that describe how COVID-19 is impacting our practice of rheumatology,” he said. “Suffice it to say, in the first survey, we found major drops in office visits, both new and revisits, changes in infusion, wholesale adaptation to telemedicine, furloughs of staff – scarily, some practices almost essentially shutdown. There is some good news, however, that practices are beginning to come back online.”
Andrew L. Concoff, MD, FACR, CAQSM, executive vice president and chief value medical officer at United Rheumatology, shared the most recent statistics on COVID-19, and how it will continue to impact practices for the foreseeable future.
“As of April 16, the pandemic had passed 2.16 million confirmed cases [globally], over 660,000 of those were in the United States [representing] 30% of the world’s confirmed cases,” Concoff said. “If New York City were a country, the death toll there would be the fifth highest in the world, as a country, behind just Italy, Spain, France and the U.K. As yet, we have tested only 1% of the U.S. population and that certainly needs to increase if we are to gain control over our situation. We may need between 1 and 35 million tests per day, ultimately, to safely open the economy.”
During his talk, Concoff shared recent United Rheumatology survey data of rheumatology practices on the notable changes experienced since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. In particular, rheumatology practices saw reduced patient volume and reduced revenue as a result of the pandemic isolation procedures.
- If you have reduced in-person visit volume, what percentage of patients that you previously saw in the clinic are still coming to in-person visits? 75% of surveyed rheumatologists reported seeing 30% or less of the scheduled patients in person
- What percentage of patients that you previously would have seen in-person are you now seeing via tele-rheumatology? A median of 40%
- If you perform infusions in your practice, what percentage of the infusions that you previously performed are you still performing? A median of 60%
- For about how many months do you estimate your practice can survive with its current financial circumstances? 75% of surveyed rheumatologists reported that their practice could survive 4 months or less
“We live in unprecedented times — this is what we hear consistently,” Douglas K. Tardio, CEO of United Rheumatology, said. “For physicians, it’s no different. In a recent [MGMA] report from a few days ago, 97% of physician practices are taking a financial hit. No specialty is given an opportunity to avoid this: 60% average decrease in patient volumes, 55% average decrease in revenues. The impact is dramatic.”
“Our goal at United Rheumatology over the last several weeks has been to respond as quickly as possible through our COVID-19 resources on our website to what we were hearing from our community of rheumatologists,” Tardio said. “We are living with a new reality every single day, and working collaboratively among our team to try to put resources out and make them available as quickly as possible to the entire physician community.” – by Robert Stott
Hamburger M, et al. Opening Remarks. Presented at: United Rheumatology webinar On Survival and Resilience: Managing A Rheumatology Practice Through the COVID-19 Pandemic; April 17, 2020 (virtual meeting).
Disclosures: Concoff, Hamburger and Tardio report no relevant financial disclosures.