U.S. hospitals see first decline in outpatient visits since 1983

TARA BANNOW  / January 7, 2020

For the first time in 35 years, U.S. hospitals delivered fewer outpatient visits in 2018 than in the prior year as the competition to provide such care continues to intensify.

The American Hospital Association’s newly released 2020 Hospital Statistics report shows the 6,146 hospitals in the U.S. delivered a cumulative 879.6 million outpatient visits in 2018, 0.9% less than in 2017, when they delivered 880.5 million outpatient visits. The data, which covers health system-owned ambulatory surgery centers, outpatient clinics and urgent care clinics, is the first year-over-year decline since 1983, and comes even as health systems work to expand their outpatient offerings beyond hospital campuses.

The amount of outpatient care being delivered nationwide is likely on the rise, it’s just happening in more places than it used to. The AHA’s report, provided exclusively to Modern Healthcare ahead of its public release, highlights the fact that patients are increasingly gravitating toward the countless disruptors that tout more convenient, cheaper options for primary care, urgent care and even emergency care. CVS Health, for example, plans to launch 1,500 clinics with expanded services in its stores by the end of 2021. And UnitedHealthcare recently began refusing to pay for certain outpatient surgeries in hospital settings to save money.

“We’re pivoting to a new business model in healthcare, with a much more pluralistic delivery system with many, many more consumer options,” said Ken Kaufman, chairman of management consulting firm Kaufman Hall. “Which, of course, is exactly the same thing that’s happening in other parts of the economy. I think it’s very important that especially the major health systems recognize this and realize they have to compete against it.”


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Chris J. Stewart

Chris currently serves as Chief Executive Officer of Surgio Health as well as Chief Operating Officer at Ortho Spine Partners. Prior to that, he was the assistant vice president and business unit leader of Medical Device Management for HealthTrust Purchasing Group (HPG).

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