As a result, health system-based clinical laboratories likely saw a decline in test orders as well a decrease in outreach revenue
Bad financial news continues in the hospital industry. According to an August 2023 National Hospital Flash Report from consulting firm Kaufman Hall, hospitals’ financial performance deteriorated in July, partly due to declines in inpatient and outpatient volumes and rising bad debt and charity care.
The implication from these findings is that hospital-based clinical laboratories saw a drop in test volume and any lab revenue associated with inpatient testing.
In an analysis of data from more than 1,300 hospitals, Kaufman Hall noted a dip in hospitals’ median calendar year-to-date operating margin from 1.4% in June down to 1.3% in July. The data also showed “a greater pullback in volume on the outpatient side, which may be attributed to patients choosing not to pursue elective procedures during the summer,” a Kaufman Hall news release stated.
Kaufman Hall’s National Hospital Flash Report by Erik Swanson, Senior Vice President, Data and Analytics, and Brian Pisarsky, Senior Vice President, Strategic and Financial Planning, is an analysis of actual and budget data—sampled from Syntellis Performance Solutions—which is representative of hospitals of various sizes and areas in the US.
“It’s clear that today’s challenging financial environment is here to stay, and hospital leaders must be proactive in seeking out opportunities to refine their operations and remain competitive,” said Erik Swanson, Senior Vice President, Data and Analytics, Kaufman Hall, in a news release. Clinical laboratory leaders would be wise to follow the same advice. (Photo copyright: Kaufman Hall.)
Expenses Declined, Bad Debt and Charity Care Rose
Here are other national data Kaufman Hall reported for July 2023 as compared to June 2023:
- Adjusted discharges per calendar day dropped 7%.
- Operating room minutes per calendar day declined 13%.
- Emergency department visits per calendar day fell 1%.
- Bad debt and charity care as a percentage of hospitals’ gross operating revenue was up 7%.
- Purchased service expense per adjusted discharge was down 3%.
- Labor expense per adjusted discharge also fell 3%.
Even though expenses slightly declined during July, patient volume decreases “pulled down” the margins, Healthcare Innovation reported, which called the report “a gloomy one.”
Also, the uptick in bad debt and charity care while volumes decreased created a “difficult situation for hospitals,” Medical Economics observed.
Here are the report’s “key takeaways,” according to Kaufman Hall:
- All volume indicators were down, but operating margins were still better than 2022.
- Outpatient volume decreased more than inpatient, possibly due to patients choosing not to have elective procedures during the summer.
- The decline in expenses was “not enough to offset revenue losses,” and inflation will continue to take its toll on labor expenses.
- Medicaid has been “disenrolling” members in 30 states during June and July, and bad debt and charity care have increased.
The report also called out need for improvement in providers’ discharge of patients to skilled nursing facilities. “Hospitals that prioritize care transitions to skilled nursing facilities are performing better than institutions [that] do not,” Swanson said in the news release.
“Identifying steps that can ensure a smooth transition, such as obtaining pre-authorizations and planning discharge early, will help organizations reduce expenses and improve patients’ experience,” he continued.
For Hospitals, 2023 Not as Bad as 2022
MedCity News pointed out that though July’s operating margin index decline followed four months of growth, hospitals are still way ahead of 2022 performance when median operating margins were -0.98% in July 2022.
Still, it appears hospitals are struggling to secure financial footing after 2022, an overall bad financial year for the hospital industry.
In “Tough Times Ahead for Hospitals and Their Labs,” Dark Daily’s sister publication The Dark Report referenced a Fall 2022 Current State of Hospital Finances Report, prepared by Kaufman Hall for the American Hospital Association. The report noted that “under an optimistic scenario, hospitals would lose $53 billion in revenue [in 2022]. The loss would primarily come from a $27 billion decline in outpatient revenue and $17 billion for inpatient as well as $9 billion in emergency department revenue.”
More recently, a 2023 Becker’s Hospital CFO Report compiled a list of 81 hospitals that had cut jobs since the start of the year in response to “financial and operational challenges.”
Included was Tufts Medicine in Burlington, Massachusetts. In August, the hospital “eliminated hundreds of jobs” in an outsourcing of lab outreach services to Labcorp. The Becker’s report noted that “[Tufts] said it will work with Labcorp to have the majority of affected employees transition to a similar position with Labcorp.”
Tips for Clinical Lab Financial Viability
Medical laboratory leaders need to help ensure financial health of their labs as well as quality and efficiency of services. Advice from Kaufman Hall may be applicable.
The report writers advised providers to secure payer authorizations before a “patient comes in the door.” For clinical labs, this is comparable to the need to secure insurance company authorizations for expensive genetic tests before samples are taken and tests performed.
Another tip from Kaufman Hall is to “collect and use data to inform process improvement” and “make change.” Along those lines, medical laboratories could leverage patient data to guide launch of new services, entry to markets, workflow improvement, and costs reduction.
—Donna Marie Pocius