The COVID-19 pandemic has led to dramatic decreases in examination volumes – of up to 80+ percent in some cases – for private radiology practices that rely solely on revenues from examination interpretation, according to a special report from the RSNA COVID-19 Task Force.
The severe economic impact of COVID-19 has forced many practice leaders to take drastic cost-cutting measures to stay open, including decreasing salaries, paid time off, benefits, and hours of work despite increasing work responsibilities, the report’s authors stated. While practices need to be fiscally responsible during these difficult times, it is not possible for groups to cut expenses as a solution to long term profitability.
With no end in sight to the current pandemic, such information could prove actionable for both radiologist workforce and practice financial planning, particularly if a predicted potentially disastrous ‘second wave’ of corona virus disease indeed materializes. Some groups may prove unable to survive the COVID-19 pandemic, potentially fueling trends either toward consolidation into larger radiology groups or toward increased employment by hospitals.
State budgets are taking a hit during the pandemic and in response, Medicaid reimbursement rates are likely to fall even further to make up for state revenue shortfalls. Radiology practices will rely more on Medicaid and self-pay patients in the aftermath of the pandemic.
The Urban Institute estimates that 10.1 million people will lose their employer-sponsored healthcare coverage from a COVID-19-related job loss during the last three quarters of 2020. Of these individuals, the non-profit think tank projects about a third to switch to another source of employer coverage through a family member, but 28 percent will enroll in Medicaid and 6 percent in the non-group market. Even worse, about 3.5 million people in this group will become uninsured by the end of 2020.
Best practices have developed over the years for radiologists, for instance, hanging films migrated to PACs systems. The ability to verify insurance coverage and engage patients early in the collection process must also take a similar evolution. As patient responsibility and liability continues to increase, groups must engage new and enhanced technology and processes to capture the lost revenue opportunity.
But radiology practices will have to adapt to greater patient engagement with a slimmer workforce. Collecting the most difficult dollars with a streamlined workforce requires more focused technology and effectiveness in the billing cycle.
Technology investments and process improvements in the revenue cycle will be the key to overcoming the financial and operational challenges of COVID-19. Business intelligence and revenue cycle management systems can also support cost-cutting efforts radiology practices must undertake to increase efficiency amid unfavorable payer mix shifts. A data-driven approach to financial stability is the key to understanding a practice’s cash flow and physician productivity.
Balancing technology with highly trained staff will be crucial to surviving the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic fallout. Selecting a revenue cycle management partner who understands the specific challenges in radiology can help practice leaders achieve that balance.
Rethinking revenue cycle management using a blend of technology and training will be a key to succeeding in a post-pandemic world in which there are more uninsured patients, fewer radiologists, and a greater need for efficiency.
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