Some patients delaying procedures amid coronavirus outbreak. Analysts predict what it means for hospitals

18 March 2020

Joanne Finnegan / FiercePharma

As the coronavirus is increasingly altering American life, a small survey of physicians finds that some patients are canceling elective procedures because of the outbreak.

Almost a quarter of the doctors say they are seeing patients cancel or defer procedures, according to a survey by investment bank Jefferies.

The company surveyed 62 orthopedic surgeons, interventional cardiologists and anesthesiologists to gauge the impact of COVID-19 on the volume of medical procedures. The survey found 23% of doctors noted a change, and more than half expect the cancellations and postponements to continue.

The fact patients are delaying procedures may cut into hospital earnings for the first half of 2020 and impact medical device manufacturers and drugmakers, Jefferies analysts told MarketWatch.

But they predicted a "modest" net impact for fiscal year 2020 on healthcare providers, as long as the spread of COVID-19 doesn't become a full-blown pandemic in the U.S.

However, the analysts think revenues lost as a result of delayed procedures will likely be made up at hospitals and ambulatory surgical centers since patients are likely to rebook once concerns about the virus wane.

The survey indicates the cancellation of procedures in the U.S. so far has been minimal, estimated at 3% to 4%, but as the virus spreads more Americans are changing their plans as part of an intentional effort to stop the spread of coronavirus.

U.S. health officials are urging Americans, particularly older adults and those with chronic health conditions, to avoid crowds to prevent exposure to the illness.

The reaction has been dramatic: Travel has been disrupted, Broadway shows have closed, schools have been canceled, some churches have shut their doors, large gatherings in some areas are forbidden and major sporting events are canceled.

If they start seeing a major surge in patients, some hospitals may also cancel appointments and elective procedures so doctors and staff can focus on treating coronavirus patients.

Just as it impacts businesses across the country, medical practices may face a loss of revenue as a result of the coronavirus, cautioned attorney Ike Devji, J.D., writing in Physicians Practice. Practices most at risk are those offering elective or delayable treatment as patients want to avoid exposure to coronavirus. Patients likely perceive healthcare facilities as high-risk environments for exposure to the highly contagious coronavirus.

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