COVID-19: Three Critical Questions to Address on Ambulatory Care


Health systems, particularly in markets with early spikes in COVID-19 cases, have already seen a shift in their ambulatory care demands. There is an influx of visits from patients who suspect they may have the virus, and a decrease in all other visits as patients are unwilling to use health system facilities for fear of infection or a desire to minimize their interactions in the community. The shift in ambulatory care demand begs three questions for ambulatory care leadership:

  1. How do we best support the needs of our current patients and others seeking triage, testing and treatment? [Immediate / 0-3 months]
  2. How will we accommodate the influx of patients who do not have COVID-19 and are currently delaying or deferring care? [Short-term / 3-6 months]
  3. How can we expand our ambulatory network and capabilities to accommodate both future spikes in demand and support ongoing patient access and care delivery? [Long-term / 6+ months]
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Immediate Need: How do we best support the needs of our current patients and others seeking triage, testing and treatment?

Consider the following to respond to the current COVID-19 crisis:

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Short-term: How will we accommodate the influx of patients who do not have COVID-19 and are currently delaying or deferring care?

Ambulatory visit volume may dip during the height of the COVID-19 crisis from patients who opt to stay at home for fear of infection and peak as the virus dissipates. The following tactics can be deployed in anticipation of the influx of visits as COVID-19 illness declines:

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Long-term: How can we expand our ambulatory network and capabilities to accommodate both future spikes in demand and support ongoing patient access and care delivery?

The preparation and deployment of tactics to respond to COVID-19 have elevated the need for health systems to expand ways for patients to access and navigate through the health system and actively manage capacity across new and evolving modalities of care. As the crisis subsides, evaluate and determine how best to bolster your current access channels, communication vehicles and virtual health capabilities. Doing so will not only prepare the system for the next crisis, but also help the health system retain and serve current patients and grow programs.