The importance of hospital finance data just shot through the roof — thanks to COVID-19. 

Hospitals that previously shied away from a data-forward posture are rushing to catch up as the pandemic evolves. At the same time, others who took their data seriously, early have been able to handle internal planning and government reporting with minimal issues

As the pandemic continues to evolve, that distinction is only going to become sharper. Why? Because we’re headed into the age of the post-COVID hospital. This is an era where margin analysis will be critical to hospital health (and even survival), dips and surges in elective surgeries will play havoc with forecasting and budgeting, and labor will only become more challenging. 

And there’s the problem. 

The data posture that was perfectly adequate pre-COVID, will, for many hospitals and health systems, become a liability. Here’s why. 

Collection will become challenging. 

Many hospitals are past the point where tracking bare COVID cases and admissions is enough. With efforts ranging from COVID-tracking sensors to EHR-based risk-prediction tools, hospitals have stepped up their games. 

It’s not certain we can say the same thing about hospital treatment of costs. 

While some hospitals have implemented sophisticated cost centers to track COVID-related expenses, others are still working with a black box of pandemic response expenditures. As treatments evolve and payers shift their reimbursement policies to better accommodate member needs, hospitals will find it increasingly necessary to rely on sophisticated and granular cost accounting that can track the impact the pandemic is having on their books. 

Planning just got a lot more complicated. 

Everyone’s a little tired of hearing about how much “uncertainty” is going around these days, but it’s reality. 

While accurate hospital budgeting and forecasting has always been challenging, it’s reached a new level of difficulty with a pandemic as a variable. COVID-19 brings with it increased risk of future staffing shortages on top of spikes in self-pay patients as insurance coverage is lost along with jobs — making business continuity planning incredibly complex. 

Take capacity planning for example. Hospitals around the country have been calculating what to do when patient volume surges leave ICUs and other departments overflowing — and they’ve been doing it on the fly. While epidemiological capacity planning tools are becoming more commonly used, these shouldn’t be siloed off from the financial planning tools that will ensure hospital business continuity as overflow mitigation strategies are executed. 

It’s very possible to perform case-level planning and budgeting and even evaluate how decision-making will impact a wide range of staffing, purchasing, utilization, capacity, and finance scenarios. 

The government is at your door. 

If there’s any area where demand for high-quality data has exploded, it’s in government reporting. 

HHS, for example, requires daily reporting of extensive capacity and utilization data for beds, ventilators, suspected confirmed COVID patients, previous day’s COVID deaths, critical staffing shortages, and expected critical staffing shortages. On another front, FEMA has requested hospital support in reporting data for epidemiological surveillance, including daily reporting on testing, capacity, supplies, utilization, and patient flows. The agency also requires detailed reporting to determine grants and loans (which will eventually need to be repaid). 

This is why the first question hospitals should be asking, before they dive into reporting or trying to plan their way into an uncertain future, is “Do we trust our data?” If you’re hesitating at all, know that it is possible to work with data you can rely on. If you feel like you can’t do that in your current state, take some time to read up on the potential of Honest Data. And if you want to have a conversation about what it will look like to get your organization caught up and COVID-ready, let’s talk.