It’s Official: COVID-19 Was Bad for the Healthcare Business; Mask Wearing in My Office and Some Good News.

COVID-19 Took a Huge Cut of Clinicians’ Business in March and April

If you have a business, whether it is a medical practice, or other form of business you recognize the stress and changes in your business, most of them bad for your bottom line. Also, as lock-downs have been eased you realize the overall change in the way business will be managed in your immediate and probable long-term futures. Richard Franki noted that in the first 2 months of the COVID-19 pandemic, health care professionals experienced sharp drops in both utilization and revenue, according to an analysis of the nation’s largest collection of private health care claims data.

For the months of March and April 2020, use of medical professional services dropped by 65% and 68%, respectively, compared with last year, and estimated revenue fell by 45% and 48%, FAIR Health, a nonprofit organization that manages a database of 31 billion claim records, said in a new report.

For the Northeast states – the epicenter of the pandemic in March and April – patient volume was down by 60% in March and 80% in April, while revenue fell by 55% in March and 79% in April, the organization said.

For this analysis, “a professional service was defined as any service provided by an individual (e.g., physician, nurse, nurse practitioner, physician assistant) instead of being billed by a facility,” FAIR Health noted. Figures for 2019 were adjusted using the Consumer Price Index.

The size of the pandemic-related decreases in utilization and income varied by specialty. Of the seven specialties included in the study, oral surgery was hit the hardest, followed by gastroenterology, cardiology, orthopedics, dermatology, adult primary care, and pediatric primary care, FAIR Health said.

After experiencing a 2% drop in utilization this January and an increase of 4% in February, compared with 2019, gastroenterology saw corresponding drops of 73% in March and 77% in April. Estimated revenue for the specialty was flat in January and rose by 10% in February, but plummeted by 75% in March and 80% in April, the FAIR Health data show.

In cardiology, patient volume from 2019 to 2020 looked like this: Down by 4% in January, up 5% in February, down by 62% in March, and down by 71% in April. The earnings numbers tell a similar story: Down by 2% in January, up by 15% in February, down by 57% in March, and down by 73% in April, the organization reported.

Dermatology did the best among the non–primary care specialties, but that was just a relative success. Utilization still dropped by 62% and 68% in March and April of 2020, compared with last year, and revenue declined by 50% in March and 59% in April, FAIR Health said.

For adult primary care, the utilization numbers were similar, but revenue took a somewhat smaller hit. Patient volume from 2019 to 2020 was fairly steady in January and February, then nosedived in March (down 60%) and April (down 68%). Earnings were up initially, rising 1% in January and 2% in February, but fell 47% in March and 54% in April, FAIR Health said.

Pediatric primary care, it appears, may have been buoyed somewhat by its younger patients. The specialty as a whole saw utilization tumble by 52% in March and 58% in April, but revenue dropped by just 32% and 35%, respectively, according to the report.

A little extra data diving showed that the figures for preventive care visits for patients aged 0-4 years in March and April were –2% and 0% for volume and –2% and 1% for revenue. Meanwhile, the volume of immunizations only dropped by 14% and 10% and vaccine-related revenue slipped by just 7% and 2%, FAIR Health noted.

“Across many specialties from January to April 2020, office or other outpatient [evaluation and management] visits became more common relative to other procedures. This may have been due in part to the fact that many of these E&M services could be rendered via telehealth,” FAIR Health said.

Telehealth, however, was no panacea, the report explained: “Even when medical practices have continued to function via telehealth, many have experienced lower reimbursements for telehealth visits than for in-person visits and more time educating patients on how to use the technology.

Patients Who Refuse to Wear a Mask: Responses That Won’t Get You Sued

Carolyn Buppert, MSN, JD, related a case that we in my office have recently seen. Your waiting room is filled with mask-wearing individuals, except for one person. Your staff offers a mask to this person, citing your office policy of requiring masks for all persons in order to prevent asymptomatic COVID spread, and the patient refuses to put it on.

In our case the patients are all told ahead of time that they must bring and wear a mask if they want to be admitted to our office. Last week this patient came into our office and refused to wear a mask and of course wasn’t wearing a mask.

What can you/should you/must you do? Are you required to see a patient who refuses to wear a mask? If you ask the patient to leave without being seen, can you be accused of patient abandonment? If you allow the patient to stay, could you be liable for negligence for exposing others to a deadly illness?

I’ll let all of you know that we refuse to see patients or even have them enter our office if they don’t wear masks. This is a requirement for our practice to protect my staff, my other patients and yes, even me that practitioner.

We will not even see patients who have traveled from those states where the COVID-19 infection rate has surged. They must self-quarantine and must have a negative COVID test before we will see them as a patient. And yes, this has happened, even this happened just this past Monday.

The rules on mask-wearing, while initially downright confusing, have inexorably come to a rough consensus. By governors’ orders, masks are now mandatory in most states, though when and where they are required varies. For example, effective July 7, the governor of Washington has ordered that a business not allow a customer to enter without a face covering.

So far, there are no cases or court decisions to guide us about whether it is negligence to allow an unmasked patient to commingle in a medical practice. Nor do we have case law to help us determine whether patient abandonment would apply if a patient is sent home without being seen.

We can apply the legal principles and cases from other situations to this one, however, to tell us what constitutes negligence or patient abandonment.

The practical questions, legally, are who might sue and on what basis?

Who Might Sue?

Someone who is injured in a public place may sue the owner for negligence if the owner knew or should have known of a danger and didn’t do anything about it. For example, individuals have sued grocery stores successfully after they slipped on a banana peel and fell. If, say, the banana peel was black, that indicates that it had been there for a while, and judges have found that the store management should have known about it and removed it.

Compare the banana peel scenario to the scenario where most news outlets and health departments are telling people, every day, to wear masks while in indoor public spaces, yet owners of a medical practice or facility allow individuals who are not wearing masks to sit in their waiting room. If an individual who was also in the waiting room with the unmasked individual develops COVID-19 two days later, the ill individual may sue the medical practice for negligence for not removing the unmasked individual.

What about the individual’s responsibility to move away from the person not wearing a mask? That is the aspect of this scenario that attorneys and experts could argue about, for days, in a court case. But to go back to the banana peel case, one could argue that a customer in a grocery store should be looking out for banana peels on the floor and avoid them, yet courts have assigned liability to grocery stores when customers slip and fall.

Let’s review the four elements of negligence which a plaintiff would need to prove:

  • Duty: Obligation of one person to another
  • Breach: Improper act or omission, in the context of proper behavior to avoid imposing undue risks of harm to other persons and their property
  • Damage
  • Causation: That the act or omission caused the harm

Those who run medical offices and facilities have a duty to provide reasonably safe public spaces. Unmasked individuals are a risk to others nearby, so the “breach” element is satisfied if a practice fails to impose safety measures. Causation could be proven, or at least inferred, if contact tracing of an individual with COVID showed that the only contact likely to have exposed the ill individual to the virus was an unmasked individual in a medical practice’s waiting room, especially if the unmasked individual was COVID-positive before, during, or shortly after the visit to the practice.

What About Patient Abandonment?

“Patient abandonment” is the legal term for terminating the physician-patient relationship in such a manner that the patient is denied necessary medical care. It is a form of negligence.

Refusing to see a patient unless the patient wears a mask is not denying care, in this attorney’s view, but rather establishing reasonable conditions for getting care. The patient simply needs to put on a mask.

What about the patient who refuses to wear a mask for medical reasons? There are exceptions in most of the governors’ orders for individuals with medical conditions that preclude covering nose and mouth with a mask. A medical office is the perfect place to test an individual’s ability or inability to breathe well while wearing a mask. “Put the mask on and we’ll see how you do” is a reasonable response. Monitor the patient visually and apply a pulse oximeter with mask off and mask on. In our office each patient has pulse oximetry done as part of our COVID screening and anyone with a problem is sent out to their primary care doctor to be assessed for a COVID infection. There are no exceptions. As I have said before, this is to protect the patient, our other patients, my staff and yes, me the practitioner. No exceptions!

Dr. Atlas: Coronavirus surges linked mostly to protests — and proximity to US-Mexico border

Victoria Garcia of Fox News reported that the recent surges, as the daily infections approach 70,000, in U.S. coronavirus cases can be traced to two key factors — crowds of protesters and proximity to the U.S.-Mexico border, Dr. Scott Atlas, a senior fellow at The Hoover Institution, said Saturday night. ‘Protesting, sharing megaphones, screaming. That’s a setup to spread cases,’ Atlas says

Most of the cases in the Southwest — California, Arizona and Texas — are occurring in counties closest to the U.S.-Mexico border, Atlas told anchor Jon Scott during an appearance on “Fox Report Weekend.”

“When you look in the southern counties of California, Arizona and the bordering counties of Texas — with the Mexico border — these are where most of these cases are really exploding,” Atlas said. “And then you look at the Mexico map and in Mexico, that’s where their cases are. Their cases are in the northern border zone states. And it turns out the timeline here correlates much more to the Mexico timeline of increasing cases than anything else.”

Spikes in Texas, Florida and Arizona don’t essentially line up with reopening but with Mexico’s surge and the recent protests that have gripped the U.S., Atlas said.

“When you really look closely at these so-called re-opening policies, whether it’s in Georgia or Florida or Texas, you know, we didn’t really see a big correlation of cases and hospitalizations from that,” Atlas said. “That’s really not true. That’s sort of some sloppy thinking, I think, again. We really have to look closely at why these things are happening.

“By the way. California didn’t really reopen. Yet they have cases coming up. Why is that? I mean, that’s because these cases don’t really correlate to that.”

‘A setup to spread cases’

“They correlate mainly to two things — the big thousands and thousands of people with protesting, sharing megaphones, screaming. That’s a setup to spread cases,” Atlas said. “And also, when you look at the analysis of the border counties, there’s a tremendous amount of cases coming over the border and exchanging with families in the northern Mexico states.”

Atlas also explained the hospital capacity situation in Texas and Arizona. “So, the real concern that that I see right now is that there are hospitals getting crowded in their ICUs and this is clearly a concern,” Atlas said. “The crowding is from the reinstatement of regular medical care, which is actually very important. We have locked that down before and that policy kills people. So, we don’t want to go back to that.”

“The solution to this is really protect the high risk in a more diligent way than we are, the very highest-risk group. We have been very, very clear about that to people,” Atlas said. “The second part is increasing the hospital capacity.”

Fauci says states need to address problems with COVID-19 response: ‘If you don’t admit it, you can’t correct it’

Savannah Behrman of the USA TODAY reported that Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Wednesday that states need to face problems with their coronavirus responses because “if you don’t admit it, you can’t correct it.”

In an interview with “The Journal,” a podcast from the Wall Street Journal, Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, discussed the alarming rates of coronavirus cases that are surging in some states that reopened quickly. 

“What we’re seeing is exponential growth, it went from an average of about 20,000 to 40,000 and 50,000. That’s doubling,” Fauci said.

Fauci told Congress last week that new coronavirus infections could increase to 100,000 a day if the nation doesn’t get its surge of cases under control. During the interview, he discussed conversations the White House coronavirus task force has been having with governors and health officials from states where cases are spiking. “Among the states, and there is admission from within,” the doctor explained. “Some states went too fast, some states went according to what the time table was, but the people in the state didn’t listen, and threw caution to the wind.”

Fauci was pressed on “mixed messaging” coming from the White House coronavirus task force regarding warnings he and other health officials such as Dr. Deborah L. Birx have sounded versus comments from elected officials such as Vice President Mike Pence. 

“Well, you know, I think in fairness to the vice president, the vice president understands that. But he is trying in his role as the vice president to really in a certain sense also point out some of the things that are going well,” Fauci said. “So, he is a person who is an optimistic person and is doing a very good job as the leader of the task force, I must say.”

He continued that he and other public health officials are “coldly” looking at the data that results in recommendations from the task force, but that as “a member of the task force, I’m telling you that we have a serious situation here that we really do need to address.” 

His comments come a day after President Donald Trump disputed Fauci’s comments that the U.S. is still “knee-deep in the first wave” of the pandemic. “I think we are in a good place. I disagree with him,” Trump said in an interview. 

The nation surpassed 3 million coronavirus cases and 132,256 deaths Wednesday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The grim milestone represents roughly a quarter of the world’s cases and the same percentage of its deaths.

Tuesday saw a record 60,021 new cases as the nationwide surge showed no signs of ebbing.  Cases are surging in states such as Texas, Florida, and Arizona, and some have now paused or reversed their reopenings. 

Fauci stressed that the public health “message” needs to work in tandem with states reopening in order for states to be able to protect their citizens’ health and the economy.

And this all has to be considered as we get closer to the school year. Do we send our children back to school and how do we educate our kids?

And Now Some Good News Regarding this Pandemic: New study suggests COVID-19 brought American families closer together

From developmental milestones to simple heart to hearts, three-quarters of parents polled experienced a key moment, which they otherwise may have missed, with their children while in lockdown. Seventy-five percent of American parents witnessed a key moment in their child’s life while in self-isolation, according to new research.

The survey of 2,000 Americans — of which about 1,200 were parents — asked respondents about their time sheltering in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the perks of being surrounded by family. From developmental milestones to simple heart-to-hearts, three-quarters of parents polled experienced a key moment that they otherwise may have missed with their children while in lockdown. The survey found 66% of those surveyed said the pandemic has brought them closer to their family than ever before. (iStock)

Respondents were asked to share the key moments they experienced, and one respondent said their child got to meet an aunt for the first time, while another was able to successfully potty train their little one. Another respondent shared how their child confided in them that they were being bullied at school, while someone else shared they were able to watch their son be sworn into the National Guard via a livestream.

Conducted by OnePoll on behalf of Juice Plus+, the survey found 66 percent of those surveyed said the pandemic has brought them closer to their family than ever before. It’s no surprise that 77 percent of respondents were also in agreement that they’ve enjoyed spending more time with the members of their household. The survey also found respondents have learned a lot about their families while sheltering in place as well.

Nearly half of respondents admitted they didn’t really know what their significant other’s job was before they began working from home during self-isolation. Seventy-nine percent of parents surveyed said they’ve also learned more about their children’s hobbies and passions during this time. While another 77 percent of parents said their children have become more open to learning new things around the house and trying new activities.

In fact, 31 percent of those surveyed said they’ve taught a family member a new skill while they’ve been in quarantine. Seven in 10 respondents also shared their increased time indoors has been a wake-up call for them to focus on their families’ unhealthy habits. Forty-one percent of those polled said they’ve added more priority to eating meals as a family during their time in isolation.

“During these unprecedented times, it has been a delight to see families becoming closer than ever before and enjoying the additional time they have gotten together while staying home,” said Dr. Mitra Ray, Ph.D., research biochemist and health ambassador with Juice Plus+. “In turn, this has led to an increase in family meals, which are proven to form better eating habits and a healthier lifestyle for years to come.”

Another 29 percent of respondents shared they learned how to cook a new family recipe. Seventy-one percent of respondents shared this has all been possible because it’s been easier for them to adhere to a new and improved schedule for themselves and their families while they’ve been sheltering in place. For those surveyed who’ve been working from home during this time, 41% said they’ve enjoyed having a more flexible schedule. A further 38 percent of these respondents shared another perk of working remotely is they’ve been able to enjoy more quality time with their family. Regardless of whether respondents are working from home, 68% shared they’ve used lockdown to improve their family’s communication skills.

“As more people become accustomed to working from home, they are finding silver linings in its flexible benefits, such as forming stronger relationships with their families,” observed Sean Hopkins, chief revenue officer for Juice Plus+. “We value and support the impact of year-round remote working models allowing more people to stay home – offering the opportunity to work according to their own schedules and give greater priority to their loves ones and their overall happiness and well-being.”

TOP PRIORITIES ADDED TO AMERICANS’ ROUTINES IN SELF-ISOLATION

Eaten more meals as a family or with members of my household – 41%
Spent more time with my family/household – 37%
Started a new exercise routine – 36%
Learned something new about someone I live with – 33%
Made more purchases online – 32%
Taught a family member a new skill – 31%
Tuned in more to the news – 31%
Learned how to cook a new family recipe – 29%
Started a new hobby – 26%
Focused more on my/my family’s nutrition – 25%
Connected virtually with my peers – 25%
Focused more on sleep – 20%

TOP BENEFITS OF WORKING REMOTELY DURING COVID-19

Enjoying a more flexible schedule – 41%
Being able to enjoy more quality time with their family – 38%
Being more productive – 33%
Not having to commute – 29%
Not having to dress up – 29%
Being able to work from the comfort of their home – 27%
Saving money – 27%
Being able to improve their communication skills – 21%
Feeling more motivated to work – 18%
Having fewer distractions than at the office – 17%

Maryland man may be first person successfully vaccinated against COVID-19

Isabelle Friedberg in the New York Post, noted that a Maryland man believes he may be one of the first people to be successfully vaccinated against the coronavirus after participating in a trial that has reported promising early results in producing antibodies, according to reports.

David Rach, a graduate immunology student, was the first person to be injected in the trial at the University of Maryland in May, where US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and German firm BioNTech are working together in the global race to create a vaccine, the Daily Mail reports.

Now, early indications show the vaccine is working by stimulating the growth of antibodies at rates equal or higher to those who have the illness, according to WJLA.

” There is a component of relief seeing that it’s actually producing results, that the vaccine is producing antibodies,” Rach told the news station. Rach cannot be certain he was given the actual vaccine or a placebo saline solution but after a slight reaction from his second dose, he is convinced he is one of the very few people in the world vaccinated against COVID-19, the outlet said. He is due to be tested in October to determine if he does have immunity against the virus. Remember, we need to know if the immunity is long term, especially with the mutation of this virus. If the trial proves successful, Pfizer said it will produce 100 million doses before the end of the year and more than a billion doses next year, WJLA reports.

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