Three Mission Critical Priorities for Medical Practice Growth in 2019

By: on January 25, 2019

It’s a new year, and with all of your personal resolutions comes an opportunity to take a close look at how your medical practice is performing and organize your priorities for 2019.

Small practices that fail to take stock and thoughtfully examine their business and clinical priorities each year will inevitably fall behind their competitors, especially when those competitors are big hospitals with more resources. But knowing how to identify and prioritize big picture goals can be tricky.

Fortunately, you have the advantage of looking to those larger competitors to see what market factors are driving their goals, and then you can take time to prepare for when those factors begin to impact smaller independent practices like yours.

Last year, Gartner identified several business drivers, which it defines as the “primary forces that cause change and motivate health care provider business leaders to act on their strategic thinking,” that would impact medical technology decisions in 2018 (content available to Gartner clients).

Three of Gartner’s business drivers of particular interest to small practices this year will be:

Emerging consumer power

Evolving expectations of value delivery

Medical Innovations

Because major market trends tend to hit bigger organizations first before finding their way to smaller businesses, that means you should be planning for these business drivers in 2019.

Respect Your Patients and Their Emerging Consumer Power

According to Gartner, consumer power in health care is “the ability of consumers, through their individual and collective actions, to control their experiences of health and wellness and collectively to exert influence on the behavior of health care organizations” (content available to Gartner clients).

At the beginning of 2018, Gartner recognized the growing impact consumers were having on health care thanks to factors like commonplace health-related technology (e.g., wearables) and shifting federal regulations that promote heavier patient involvement in their care plans (e.g., shared decision-making).

“Consumers are increasingly asserting themselves in health care, following structural and technological changes that are slowly shifting power in their favor. Health care CIOs must identify the business and IT implications of consumer power and lead digital efforts to improve engagement.”

Gartner analysts, 2018

Increased consumer power is the result of several market trends:

  • Digitization of health care. The transition from manual methods to software methods for systems like EHRs, scheduling and patient engagement.
  • Consumers’ expectations. Thanks to all the ways technology has become increasingly ubiquitous in everyday life (think smartphones, virtual assistants and real-time banking apps), patients are bringing those expectations to the health care field. They’re expecting more personalized and simplified experiences, such as bill payments via e-commerce.
  • Consumer-empowered care. Getting patients more involved in their care through methods like shared decision support and patient activation means better clinical and financial outcomes.
  • Policy changes. With shifts in care delivery models (which we’ll talk more about later), the medical market is transitioning to a more equal marketplace where patients can essentially shop around for products and services. With the increase in their options, patients also gain power.

What did this mean for hospitals last year?

They had to:

  • Learn how to actively attract patients rather than passively expecting patients to come to them.
  • Pay more attention to their reputations by addressing online reviews.
  • Adopt marketing strategies like social media campaigns.
  • Invest in technology like e-commerce tools and patient portals that consumers have come to expect.

All of these priorities boil down to one essential rule: Respect the patient.

What will this mean for you this year?

It’s going to mean all of the same things it meant for hospitals, but on a smaller and more manageable scale, as your small size grants you the agility to quickly adapt to these changes.

Here’s how to do that—first, start small by assessing where you stand in the areas mentioned above:

  • Do you have a plan to bring in more patients? Or are you just treating the ones who find you themselves?
  • Do you monitor online reviews? Or do you ignore patient feedback?
  • Do you have a website, Twitter or Facebook where your patients can learn more about you and reach out to you?
  • Do you offer all the tools your patients want and expect? Such as online bill pay, online scheduling, online check-in, patient portals, telemedicine etc.?

If you answered no to any of these questions, that’s where you should start:

Customer management functionality in TeamSupport’s CRM

If you answered yes to any of the first set of questions, you’re probably already ahead of the game, but that doesn’t mean you should rest on your laurels. Spend time evaluating the plans and strategies you have in place to see how they performed in 2018 and whether or not they need improvement, and then create benchmarks to better track their progress in 2019.

Talk to Patients to Understand Their Evolving Expectations of Value Delivery

Thanks to the recent transition to value-based care that came about when the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 passed, doctors have had to do a lot of work centered on improving the quality of treatment in order to remain eligible for Medicare reimbursements.

Value-based health care has been defined as “the creation and operation of a health system that explicitly prioritizes health outcomes that matter to patients relative to the cost of achieving those outcomes” by the Economist Intelligence Unit. Back in January of last year, this shift in focus was a big enough market trend to catch Gartner’s attention (content available to Gartner clients).

“The health care industry is under extreme pressure to align financial incentives to value. As such, the components of what constitutes value are becoming more complex. CIOs must deliver a person-centric shared infrastructure to support new expectations.”

Gartner analysts, 2018

Before MACRA, the process of assessing and monitoring the value of care focused on the results of individual patient encounters, treatments or procedures. Now, efforts are being made to start looking at “value” more broadly in order to consider the entire patient experience.

This effort makes understanding value-based care a much more complicated process, but it also gives providers a ton of insight into how they can make things better for their patient while also improving clinical outcomes. The challenge has been (and will continue to be) figuring out what factors constitute value to patients and how to align value with cost.

What did this mean for hospitals last year?

Hospitals were recommended to figure out where patients placed value in terms of their health care experience, then experiment with strategies to provide that value.

For example, if their patients indicated a strong interest in becoming more engaged in their medical care or in having their preferences and opinions heard and considered when determining treatments, hospitals were to adopt shared decision-making tactics.

What will this mean for you this year?

Figuring out what patients value is incredibly difficult because it varies so widely from patient to patient, and that means coming up with solutions to account for the new care model is just as complex. For that reason, a lot of the recommendations you’ll see involve trial and error.

Again, I would refer you to patient surveys as a way to go straight to the source and learn as much as you can about what your patients want. From there, you can begin to ideate around strategies that will let you begin to provide that value immediately and continue to do so throughout 2019.

Don’t Be Afraid of Medical Innovations

The nature of the health care market is to progress, so providers need to keep up on the latest technologies and embrace how they will change health care.

Advancements in AI have led to medical applications like intelligent decision support and smart chatbots. Even non-health care companies like Apple are getting in on the action by producing applications and devices specifically built to track, monitor, record and report health statistics. Gartner noticed the trend, too (article available to Gartner clients):

“Rapid innovation in diagnostic, therapeutic and care delivery models is driving the global health care and life science industry, with broad technology deployment and resource allocation implications for business and IT leaders. CIOs can use this research to inform strategic planning efforts.”

Gartner analysts, 2018

Treatments are more effective than ever, thanks to continual improvements in medical tools, techniques and technologies. These include:

  • Minimally invasive robotic surgeries
  • 3D printed surgical tools
  • Medical devices that can now be IoT-enabled

Scientific research is closely tied to medicine, providing more accurate tests and diagnoses through things like discovered or improved medicine and advanced imaging technology.

With the union of science and technology, medicine is only going to advance more rapidly in the future.

What did this mean for hospitals last year?

It meant spending a lot of money on research and development for some hospitals, and spending a lot of time trying to anticipate the next big development for others. There was also a big focus on digitalization of data; for example, using interoperability-capable EHRs to securely collect and share patient information.

What will this mean for you this year?

This scares small and solo practices because in order to obtain and provide these highly advanced innovations, you have to spend lots of money.

And that’s a valid fear, unfortunately, as the highest-level products do tend to be cost prohibitive for most independent practices. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t get in the game.

Something as simple as taking data from patients’ wearable devices (e.g., Fitbits and Apple Watches) into account when gathering patient history is a great (and free!) way for you to take advantage of medical technology. You’ll also be encouraging patients to take a more active role in their health at the same time.

Interoperability is also available in EHRs marketed for independent practices, so you can obtain and share information without breaking your bank.

Direct messaging, as seen in Kareo’s EHR, is a useful tool for interoperability (Source)

Next Steps

To recap, your best strategy for assessing and prioritizing goals for growth in 2019 will be to look at what your big competitors did in 2018.

Talk to other providers and do research to learn what kinds of services and technologies the hospitals in your area are offering, then come up with strategies to implement the same or similar services in your own practice.

As you spend this time evaluating your preparedness for these market factors, remember that there’s help available from our team of medical software experts. They can help you identify software solutions that fit your specific budget and requirements. When you’re ready, call them at (855) 998-8505 to learn more.

Note: The information contained in this article has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable. The applications selected are examples to show a feature in context, and are not intended as endorsements or recommendations.

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