Hospital Admissions Bounce Back, But Still Below Pre-Pandemic Levels

By John Commins

Hospital admissions have rebounded somewhat since volumes tanked during the first months of the coronavirus pandemic, but they haven’t returned to pre-pandemic levels and likely will be 10% lower than initial projections for 2020, according to an analysis released Monday by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Using electronic medical record data gleaned from Epic Health Research Network, the KFF researchers looked at total hospital admissions and non-COVID-19 admissions by patient sex, age, and region to calculate the actual admissions as a share of total predicted admissions for 2020 based on past trends.

Researchers say the new data will provide a better understanding of the magnitude of the drop in hospital admissions, its effect on hospitals, insurers and other healthcare stakeholders, and which patients are delaying or foregoing healthcare.

“The data show which areas of the country experienced the steepest declines and where admissions came back to nearly pre-pandemic levels,” said study co-author Sam Butler, MD, Epic’s vice president of clinical informatics. “In the future, we’ll be able to compare this data with patient outcomes to better understand which non-emergency care is most critical.”

Among the key findings:

  • Total hospital admissions dropped to as low as 68% of predicted admissions on April 11, and then increased to a high of 94.3% of predicted levels by July 11, 2020.
  • As of August 8, admission volume has dropped to 91% of predicted levels.
  • The number of hospitalizations lost due to admissions drops between March and August represent 6.9% of the total expected admissions for 2020.
  • With non-COVID-19 admissions, people age 65 and older had half as many admissions in late March and April compared to what was predicted.
  • Admissions for seniors have stabilized at 80%-85% of their predicted level in early August.
  • Admissions for people under age 65 were at about 90% of predicted levels during the same seven-month period.

Epic’s EMR data includes all inpatient hospital admission volume from Dec 31, 2017 to August 8, 2020, for patients who either were discharged or died, as of September 13, 2020.

The data are aggregated weekly and pooled from 27 health systems representing 162 hospitals in 21 states that cover 22 million patients.

The 21 states had 67% of COVID-19 cases as of mid-September and represent 66.5% of the U.S. population.

John Commins is a content specialist and online news editor for HealthLeaders, a Simplify Compliance brand.