Transitioning into 2018: Six Key Practice Trends to Watch

By Kerry Ann Hayon, MHA, MMS Director, Practice Solutions and Research
Illustration by Chris Twichell

How will medical practice change in 2018? To some extent, we know. Throughout 2017, the looming question mark over the Affordable Care Act obscured the ways in which the health care industry was responding creatively to other challenges. Although the uncertainty over the ACA has not gone away, neither have the dynamism and innovation of the industry. In 2018, physicians and their practices should keep an eye on these trends:

1. Price Transparency

The national focus on price transparency continues, with the goal of educating consumers on the costs of health care services, on how patients’ choices affect their out-of-pocket expenses, and on how they can access high- quality care at lower cost. In Massachusetts, the focus on price transparency, price variation, and consumer education will certainly continue. We may see additional requirements relating to how physician practices communicate with patients about out-of-pocket expenses.

2. Drug Costs

Pharmaceutical cost controls are expected at every level of the system. Physician practices can expect to see a continued emphasis on health plan cost control mechanisms, such as prior authorization. With this issue looming large across the health care landscape, we may see other control mechanisms that can mitigate the administrative burden at the practice level.

3. Continued Shift to Value-Based Care

The shift to value-based care has picked up steam, marked most notably at the federal level by the beginnings of MACRA implementation. Commercial insurance is similarly transitioning toward models that shift risk to physicians, with incentives for providing care that demonstrates value. These models emphasize the enhanced team-based care environment. This requires innovations in how practice teams interact with patients and how technology is used to monitor and track patients, including those not currently considered at-risk. Care will become more individualized.

4. Increased Use of Data

The shift toward value-based care requires enhanced data- tracking capabilities that will both monitor and report on the larger system-based trends and broad practice population trends. In addition, they will layer in a sophisticated real-time look at patient populations defined as at-risk, while identifying patients in jeopardy of becoming at-risk. Expect the next generation of EHR data reporting capabilities to prioritize enhanced user experience, both in ease of use and ease of trend identification. This may include real-time patient monitoring, useful integration of wearable device information, and the use of artificial intelligence for proactive identification of patient needs and at-risk patients.

5. Patient Expectations for Service

The patient experience lens has broadened, and we’re now scrutinizing the overall care delivery model. There is a need for a redesign of practices to meet the increasing patient demand for immediate access, convenient hours, and multiple options for communicating with physicians. The standard for services received in a physician’s office is no longer set by other medical practices but instead by other service industries. This means, for example, that patients are increasingly mobile and interested in integrating technology into their personal care experience. Physicians and practices will be integrating technological and virtual patient care solutions into their delivery model in 2018 and beyond. Patients will be a force in driving that change.

6. Provider Wellness

Professional burnout has become a pervasive issue as health care providers take on more responsibilities to achieve value-based care. With the acknowledgment of the scale of the problem, we’ve seen many health care organizations working to enhance provider and employee wellness and engagement. A happy workforce leads to better productivity, professional satisfaction, and improved patient experience and engagement. Expect provider wellness initiatives to ramp up in 2018.

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