In earnings reports released this year, some of the biggest U.S. hospital operators are blaming weak performance on flagging hospital volumes. That highlights a persistent shift in where patients are receiving care because of major changes in payment and delivery and continued weakness in the overall economy, analysts say.
Hospital systems are setting their strategic plans with the assumption that inpatient care will continue to decline.
One of the nation's largest hospital chains, Community Health Systems in Franklin, Tenn., reported last week that nearly 5% fewer patients were admitted to its hospitals last year. The news followed announcements by LifePoint Hospitals, Brentwood, Tenn., and HCA, Dallas, that hospital visits in the fourth quarter dropped 3.9% and 1%, respectively. Not-for-profit Partners HealthCare in Massachusetts recently announced that 3.6% fewer patients were admitted across its dozen hospitals in 2013.