Flu activity this season is tracking ahead of previous years—which could mean a jump in patient volume at a time when many systems rely on a winter boost to their bottom lines.
The winter flu season is the biggest seasonal factor for hospital revenue, said Liz Sweeney, an analyst who covers the not-for-profit hospital sector for Standard & Poor's. “That seems to be the strongest driver,” she said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which publishes a weekly flu tracker, found that influenza activity has been elevated for four consecutive weeks, and 5.6% of visits to healthcare providers were related to flu-like illness in the week ended Dec. 29.
Last flu season, which was relatively mild, saw a peak of influenza-related healthcare visits of only 2.2%, according to the CDC. In 2009, the year of the H1N1, or swine flu, pandemic, influenza-related visits peaked at 7.7%.