Providers maneuver bumpy referral streams

But they report ‘strong increases’ in June
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Friday, June 19, 2020

YARMOUTH, Maine – How much a provider’s referral stream has been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic is very much tied to its business model, according to the results of the recent HME Newspoll.

HME companies with an emphasis on retail and sleep therapy have been more likely to be negatively impacted by the pandemic, the poll found.

“We have seen the complete collapse of our retail, walk-in traffic,” wrote one respondent. “The virus has drastically changed the manner in which we go about our daily work. Social distancing, remote workers and infection control procedures have had an impact. (However), we have managed our business profitably through the period.”

Overall, 84% of respondents to the poll reported their referrals decreased in March, April and May, the peak of the pandemic.

Of those who reported their referrals decreased, the largest percentage of respondents (33%) reported a 21% to 30% decrease.

“A couple of sleep therapy referral sources were closed for a couple of months and the ones that stayed open saw a reduction in patient volume,” wrote Marty Walker of Pharmaceutical Health Care. “Sleep therapy referrals were down 20% in April and 30% in May.”

HME companies with an emphasis on oxygen therapy, however, saw an increase in referrals during the peak of the pandemic, but there was a catch for some.

“Being a health system-owned DME, our referrals increased due to expediting discharges from the acute care facilities,” wrote one respondent. “Many of these were charity or financial assistance referrals, which negatively impacted our revenue cycle as budgeted.”

A large majority of respondents (78%) reported the number of referrals was increasing in June, with elective procedures being scheduled again and physician offices opening back up.

“Referral sources were closed and most were extremely slow to embrace telehealth,” wrote one respondent. “That’s changed in the past few weeks, as economies have reopened, and we’re starting to see strong increases in referrals.”

For a number of respondents, however, the biggest challenge during the pandemic has not been the lack of referrals but the operational challenges related to delivering on those referrals.

“We have many patients on hold for beds and lifts due to manufacturer and shipping delays,” wrote Irene Magee of Northeast HME. “At this point, that will impact our revenue as much as the decline in referrals.”