May 11, 2020 - Health

Coronavirus is obliterating outpatient care

Data: Bureau of Labor Statistics; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios
Data: Bureau of Labor Statistics; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios

The health care industry lost more than 1.4 million jobs in April, and more than four out of five of those lost jobs were at dentists, doctors, chiropractors and other outpatient offices.

The big picture: Routine checkups, eye tests and teeth cleanings don't take precedence in a pandemic. But even as states reopen businesses and more clinics attempt to reschedule appointments, patients likely won't come back quickly.

Between the lines: More patients have used telehealth services to consult with doctors about basic medical questions or follow-ups that don't need to be done in person. That's helped offset some of the lost revenue from canceling non-urgent visits.

  • But telehealth has its limits. People can't get cavities filled or carpal tunnel surgery virtually.
  • Consequently, with those services halted and revenue drying up, the technicians, billing clerks and medical assistants who work in outpatient settings — many of whom are not highly paid — have felt the brunt of the job loss. Many doctors also have had to cut their own pay.

What's next: Patient visits are not expected to return to pre-coronavirus levels anytime soon — so don't expect all of these jobs to return anytime soon either.

  • "Of all the places people want to come back to quickly, a health care setting is probably not at the top of the list," said Ani Turner, a health economist at Altarum.
  • Patients who have lost their insurance or who are worried about catching coronavirus un a waiting room will likely stay away even from outpatient facilities.
  • Research also suggests people cut back on health care during recessions, even if they still have employer coverage.

Go deeper: The health care workers who are losing their jobs

Go deeper