D.C.’s Healthcare Industry and COVID-19: What Career Opportunities Remain at Mid-Size Healthcare Businesses?
Filling the space between routine medical needs and critical care, medium-size businesses such as dialysis clinics, urgent care, and surgical centers have become a common part of the healthcare landscape. Even hospitals jumped in, created outpatient programs for care that formerly required overnight stays.
It was the hottest segment of the market, according to a 2018 Deloitte Center for Health Solutions report, with visits rising by 14 percent over a decade.
And then the pandemic hit.
What does the future hold for medium-size healthcare businesses? Let us take a look.
Mid-size healthcare businesses during the pandemic
Fueled by stay-at-home orders and bans on nonessential care, the number of visits to ambulatory practices—doctors’ offices, clinics, hospital outpatient departments—fell nearly 60 percent in April, according to a report from The Commonwealth Fund.
As the number of visits fell, unemployment soared, hitting healthcare workers in outpatient centers and physicians’ offices particularly hard.
Patients continued to delay routine checkups and even treatment for chronic conditions through the summer, with 40 percent of those polled in July telling McKinsey & Company they’d cancelled appointments. Office visits steadily climbed the rest of the year, essentially returning to expected levels by October before dipping again as COVID-19 flared in December, the Commonwealth Fund report said.
There was an impact on care as well as finances. According to the Health Care Cost Institute, childhood immunizations fell 60 percent in April 2020 over the previous year. Colonoscopies were down almost 90 percent.
As emergency orders eased and nonessential care was again permitted, ambulatory care centers and other clinics still had to adapt. Social distancing limited patient counts, and some people were reluctant to make appointments and risk exposure to COVID-19.
Mid-size business found themselves turning to a combination of telehealth and other ways to monitor patients with minimal contact. Access to devices such as home blood pressure cuffs, glucose monitors, and air-flow meters was essential.
Mid-size healthcare after the pandemic
Though overall health spending declined in 2020, analysts at healthaffairs.org expect it to rebound this year, once a significant portion of the population is vaccinated. That should result in an influx of patients who delayed routine care or exams during the pandemic, returning patient volumes to previous levels.
The even better news for those seeking jobs: the workforce shortages that existed before COVID-19 will come roaring back once the pandemic is under control. In fact, they could be exacerbated as burnt-out healthcare workers leave the profession.
Overall, the Bureau of Labor Statistics expects healthcare jobs to grow 15 percent through 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations. That pace would mean 2.4 million new jobs over the rest of this decade.
Much has been written about the national nurse shortage. That shortage is even more acute in large cities, where there are often dozens to hundreds of positions available. With 16 major hospitals and medical centers, D.C. certainly fits that definition, with more than 800 job openings at any given time.
For those looking to retool quickly, licensed practical and vocational nursing positions require certificates that can be completed in about a year. In only two years, jobseekers can earn associate degrees that allow them to take the exam to become a registered nurse. An associate degree also can lead to a career as a diagnostic medical sonographer, respiratory therapist, or radiation therapist.
Students entering college can look toward careers in medical labs, exercise physiology, or recreational therapy, all of which are expected to see job growth for the rest of the decade.
Ambulatory care centers and clinics also offer a wealth of other job opportunities that do not involve patient care, including medical records, medical assistants, and healthcare IT. The BLS expects healthcare management positions to grow by 32 percent this decade, which is much faster than average and faster than even the predicted overall healthcare jobs growth.