Report Shows Outpatient Volumes Remain Steady Through 2020

F.J. Thomas

Sarasota, FL ( – Despite a definite surge in COVID-19 cases during the last quarter of 2020, the volume of outpatient cases have remained steady, according to a recent report from The Commonwealth Fund.

Commonwealth Fund analysts reviewed the data gathered by Phreesia from practice management clients, and Harvard Researchers. The data included information from over 50,000 providers. The Commonwealth analyst compared the 2020 volumes to the previous four years, and refined the review of specialties to rule out any changes in volume potentially caused by a change in practice structure.

The number of outpatient cases remained stable during the last quarter of 2020 when compared to the rest of the year. Data from the previous four years showed a trend of increased outpatient visits during the winter months. However, when comparing 2020 data to the previous years, the total visits were 5 to 6 percent below the previous years.

The number of visits for children aged 3 to 17 declined after October. By comparison, visits for older adults did not see much change.

When broken out by region, the south central region had the highest number of outpatient visits, peaking by 10 percent during week 47. The northeast had the lowest number of visits throughout 2020, and dropped by 20 percent during week 51.

In December, rheumatology, urology, and primary care saw an increase in patient volume. Rheumatology volumes increased by 8 percent, followed by urology at 6 percent, and primary care at 5 percent. Several specialties however had a decrease of 10 percent or more. Pediatrics saw the highest decline at 24 percent. Physical medicine and rehab, otolaryngology, and pulmonology all saw a decline of 11 percent, followed by behavioral health at 10 percent.

Additionally, when viewed over the full year, all specialties saw a cumulative decline in the number of visits. Pediatrics and pulmonology experienced the largest reduction, at 27 percent. Otolaryngology as well as physical medicine and rehab saw a 25 percent reduction in the number of visits, followed by dermatology with a 22 percent decrease. Gastroenterology and cardiology had a 20 percent reduction, followed by neurology at 19 percent.

In April, the data showed that telemedicine visits increased, but then steadily decreased until October. Telemedicine visits increased again in November and December from 6 percent of visits to 8 percent. Behavioral health accounted for the bulk of telemedicine visits at 56 percent. Endocrinology accounted for 25 percent of telemedicine visits, followed by neurology and rheumatology at 17 percent.

The full report is available on the Commonwealth Fund website.

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