How Has COVID-19 Affected Specialty Care Referrals?

When COVID-19 cases started to rise in early spring of 2020, healthcare practices, including specialty care, in the United States struggled with an initial drop in appointment volume, but bounced back quickly as alternative care tools such as telehealth and zero contact check in emerged. 

Many of these specialty care practices rely heavily on referrals to get connected to their patients. In today’s blog post we explore how referrals were impacted by the rise of COVID-19. 

Taking a look at the above analysis of Luma customers’ attempted and scheduled referrals over time, we can see that after peaking at about 7,500 attempted referrals and 3,300 scheduled referrals in the middle of February, there is a steep downward trend until the beginning of April. 

At their lowest points, attempted referrals were at only 53% and scheduled referrals at 60% of their numbers back in February.

At their lowest points, attempted referrals were at only 53% and scheduled referrals at 60% of their numbers back in February. However, we see referrals start to normalize back from this point and eventually rise back up to the previous weeks’ numbers by the end of June. 

This trend is in line with what we observed with appointment confirmations and cancellations in this previous blog post. Despite these fluctuations in referrals attempted and scheduled, the referral conversion rate – number of successfully scheduled referral appointments over all referral attempts – remains quite stable at around 50%. 

In the following charts, we take a deeper dive into the differences in trends across three different specialties, gastroenterology, ophthalmology, and sleep center, that actively use Luma’s referrals solution. 

All three of these specialties see a steep decline in attempted referrals from the beginning of March until May of 2020. However, we see that while gastroenterology and ophthalmology are both able to normalize to pre COVID-19 numbers by June, sleep centers remain at the lower end of attempted referrals throughout the end of July. This trend is mirrored in scheduled referrals for all three specialties as well. 

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Looking further into these differences across specialties, we found that both gastroenterology and ophthalmology customers at Luma are also avid users of our telehealth solution while sleep center customers are not active users of our telehealth solution. 

While there are many things to consider in regards to the viability of telehealth appointments, data such as this suggests that telehealth can serve as a great alternative model of care when able to be used. 

Overall, while we did see a decline in referral metrics as we have similarly seen in appointment volume, overall referral counts were able to normalize back to pre COVID-19 numbers. 

While the pandemic is far from over, seeing these metrics normalize is encouraging as it shows that providers are adapting quickly and are able to continue getting their patients the care they need.  

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