In 2020, hospitals encountered a crisis unlike any they had faced before.
More than two years later, hospitals are still coping with the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic both in terms of patient volumes and financial challenges. In 2021 and 2022, as COVID-related illnesses waned, the average length of stay (ALOS) and patient acuity continued to increase across the U.S. as hospitals began to see sicker patients due to an extended period of delayed care. This new trend emerged as pent-up demand for elective procedures increased and spikes in hospitalizations continued to cycle in the fall of 2022 due to things like new COVID variants and a respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) outbreak.
Understanding the changes caused by the pandemic, their root causes and their impact on hospitals is critical in building strategies that will help hospitals address the trends. Hospitals, treating physicians and utilization review managers will need to intensify the use of past tools and adjust approaches to meet the patterns that have developed post pandemic due to the pent-up needs and delayed care. Strategies to bend hospital utilization curves will require that all departments coordinate care from the emergency department and inpatient units to discharge planning and utilization review management teams to skilled nursing facilities, and, finally, to home care.