D.C.’s Healthcare Industry and COVID-19: What Career Opportunities Remain at Small Practices and Businesses?
Dentists to dermatologists, chiropractors to transcriptionists. When COVID-19 stay-at-home orders hit in spring 2020, the punch packed a wallop that forced some segments of the healthcare industry to the mat.
Even doctors were not immune. A few physicians in solo and small practices resorted to GoFundMe to stay afloat.
As COVID-19 cases steadily decline across the country, here is a look at how small healthcare practices fared before and during the pandemic and at likely trends in the post-pandemic world.
Before the pandemic
Though government jobs remain the largest source of employment in the D.C. area, sectors such as healthcare have steadily become more important over the past 25 years. Education and health now rank third among employment sectors in the capital region, according to a Brookings Institute report.
As in the rest of the country, healthcare positions have long been near the top of everyone’s “hot jobs” lists in D.C. This was due in large part to an aging population that needs more care and wants to maintain a more active lifestyle.
Nurses, doctors, therapists—all in demand. It went on down the line, to every education level. Positions such as pharmacy technicians, opticians, and more offered livable wages to those with high school diplomas and a little training.
The job outlook was also great for managers, IT professionals, transcriptionists, and other positions not directly related to care.
Then, in the matter of weeks, the bottom fell out.
Healthcare during the pandemic
Stay-at-home orders started rolling out in DMV, and the rest of the country, on March 31. By the end of April, more than 1.5 million healthcare jobs were gone nationwide, according to Peterson-KFF’s Health System Tracker. The situation was worse in D.C. than nationally, with the district showing a 13.8 percent job loss compared to the country’s 9.5 percent.
Dentists fared the worst, particularly after orders banning non-emergency medical procedures were issued. Those offices saw 56 percent employment drops, according to the tracker.
The situation was just as dire financially for these small businesses, with spending at dental offices dropping 31 percent and spending for physician services’ falling 21 percent from February through March 2020, according to the tracker.
Though things began to improve in May when non-emergency care resumed, socially distanced waiting rooms and new sanitation protocols meant seeing fewer patients a day, according to a Journal of the American Medical Association article. Some patients stayed away out of fear of contracting COVID-19. Others lost health insurance when they lost jobs and could not afford care.
As a result, spending at physicians’ offices remained down for the rest of 2020, though levels did improve from the spring’s devastating drop.
One of the biggest changes to emerge for small healthcare businesses was the increased reliance on telehealth. Such systems have been around for decades but were not widely used before the pandemic.
For one, insurance reimbursement rates for virtual visits were lower than for face-to-face exams, providing a financial disincentive for adoption. Additionally, some doctors were concerned that telemedicine would not work in fields such as orthopedics. A study in September 2020, however, revealed overwhelming patient satisfaction.
Healthcare after the pandemic
Some experts, such as Harvard Medical School Professor Joseph C. Kvedar, believe telemedicine will be the new normal, though he acknowledges issues such as digital divides will have to be addressed.
If telemedicine does become the new norm, it opens more opportunities in the already hot field of healthcare IT. It also paves the way for young entrepreneurs who can create a telemedicine app that their grandparents can use. Increased reliance on telemedicine will mean higher demand for home healthcare equipment such as blood-pressure cuffs, peak airflow meters, and other monitors, which in turn will spill over into manufacturing and sales sectors.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics also predicts demand for core healthcare professionals—doctors, nurses, technicians—will continue to grow over the rest of the decade, and at a much faster clip than other occupations.
Finally, healthcare fields such as physical therapy, midwifery, chiropractic, podiatry, home health care, and more that were growing before the pandemic will continue to boom, the BLS says. All offer rich possibilities for someone who wants to start a small healthcare business.