Patient volume at hospitals in the District, Maryland and Virginia appears to be returning to levels seen before the coronavirus pandemic, officials say, thanks in part to public campaigns aimed at convincing people that hospitals are safe.
And while July rates for acute-care admissions, emergency department visits and ambulatory surgeries at D.C. hospitals were still down compared with January levels, they have improved markedly since April, according to a report released Wednesday by the D.C. Hospital Association.
Fewer residents in the region have sought care from hospitals during the pandemic, reflecting a national trend: 4 in 10 adults nationwide deferred medical care due to covid-19, according to a September report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
That’s in part because federal and local leaders issued guidance and executive orders early on in the pandemic that halted elective and non-urgent procedures. But visits increased once those restrictions were lifted in May and have continued to climb as people are unable to continue delaying care or have new needs arise.
“There were some instances where hospitals, generally, were telling us that people were just waiting too long,” said Jennifer Hirt, a spokeswoman for the D.C. Hospital Association, “and if they would have went to the emergency room sooner, the recovery process would have been quicker, or they would have been able to be treated more effectively.”
The D.C. Hospital Association began its “Don’t Delay Care” campaign in June to inform residents of the specific safety precautions hospitals have taken. The campaign included advertisements on buses, bike share stations and Metro stations in all eight city wards, as well as English- and Spanish-language video and radio ads.
According to the most recent available data, acute-care admissions in D.C. hospitals were down 14 percent in July from January, compared with a 30 percent drop in April. Emergency department visits were down 37 percent in July, compared with a 51 percent drop in April. And ambulatory surgeries were down 13 percent in July, compared with an 81 percent drop in April.
Bob Atlas, president of the Maryland Hospital Association, said hospitals in the state did not launch a similar public service campaign, although some Maryland residents would have seen the D.C. ads. Maryland hospitals have been reaching out directly to patients to reschedule missed appointments, Atlas said.
One reason the inpatient care levels haven’t fully recovered is “because some of the procedures hospitals have to conduct to maintain infection control don’t allow them to turn over beds and other services as quickly as they might have done in the past,” Atlas said, referring to extra cleaning measures created during the pandemic.
Inpatient volumes in Virginia were down 11 percent overall in the first two quarters of this year compared with previous years, according to data released in a webinar this week from the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association. There was a 31 percent drop in inpatient volumes in April alone.
Emergency department volumes were down 38 percent for the first two quarters, including a 52 percent drop in April.
The Inova Health System, a network of five hospitals in Northern Virginia, launched a campaign in June called Safe@Inova. The campaign included ads on television and the radio that were also translated into Spanish and ads in community newspapers.
“We’ve definitely seen a rebound, people are feeling comfortable coming into the hospital to have their procedures,” said Tracy Connell, a spokeswoman for Inova Health. “I want to caveat that with, there’s still a lot we don’t know about the virus that we just have to be kind of cautiously optimistic about that.”
Health officials said they are bracing for another wave of coronavirus cases as flu season nears and people are forced indoors because of the cooling weather.
Officials have also been dealing with a coronavirus outbreak at the White House in recent days that has sparked concern about spread within the region. The Trump administration has given limited information to local officials, prompting 10 local jurisdictions to pen an open letter asking anyone who attended a Sept. 26 Rose Garden event that is suspected to be the center of the outbreak to isolate at home and get tested.