4 Medical Practice Tech Trends to Watch in 2018

What a year it was for healthcare.

2017 started with the new administration looking to make big changes to the health insurance markets, and healthcare dominated the news cycle for months as Congress battled over the fate of the ACA. As a result we saw a number of moves that increased uncertainty for payers and patients — with providers stuck in the middle, and premiums expected to increase by as much as 40 percent.

What is clear is that consumers will continue to shoulder an increasing share of the healthcare spend for the foreseeable future.

We also saw increased competition for share of those health care dollars: our survey of over 2,000 physicians and practice administrators found that more than half have seen competitive pressures intensify over the last three years.

At the same time, value-driven programs such as the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA) and the Merit-based Incentive Payment System (MIPS) are now on their second year, and physicians will have to start proving they can provide certain patient outcomes in order to get reimbursed through Medicare Part B. We know from our research that many practices simply aren’t ready.

As we start the new year, it’s more critical than ever that medical practices invest in technology that allows them to thrive in this complex environment.

Here is where I see smart practices focusing their technology spend next year:

1. Modernizing the patient experience.

In 2017, we saw a big move towards digitizing basic elements of the patient experience, such as allowing patients to make appointments and interact with the practice online. Next year, we’ll see leading-edge practices provide an even higher level of convenience for patients, including pushing the intake process online, allowing patients to check in via mobile app or in-office kiosk, even offering telemedicine services.

We’ll also start to see practices invest in solutions that streamline the patient experience by combining common activities into a single, common-sense workflow. I recently wrote about the concept of the healthcare “super app” — an app that brings together many different functions into a one-stop-shop for providing and receiving care, which can eliminate repetitive or redundant actions like double or triple entry of information. Look for more healthcare super apps being introduced and implemented next year.

2. Making it easier to pay.

We’ll also see a big push for medical practices to upgrade their payments systems in an effort to attract and retain patients. Our research shows that 40 percent of millennials would switch providers in order to access things like online payments. And, with more of the financial burden for healthcare passing to consumers, giving patients the ability to search online and pull up records for expenses, taxes or reimbursement will become absolutely critical.

Also look for practices to respond to concerns about the lack of price transparency with eligibility checks and payment estimators that help patients know what to expect before their visit.

Of course a modern payments system isn’t just about patient preference — making it easier to pay also reduces the risk of bad debt, something that practices should be increasingly concerned with. In fact, Moody’s expects bad debt to rise as patients take on a larger portion of their healthcare costs.

3. Measuring outcomes.

Over the past five or six years, we saw a significant shift to electronic health records (EHRs) as physicians have sought to get the meaningful use subsidy by digitizing their practice. (We also lived through the chaos it caused, because the technology wasn’t ready!)

We’re now at a stage where the technology is finally catching up to what physicians are looking for… just in time for MIPS and MACRA to kick in.

Physicians who cannot show that they’re compliant with the requirements for patient-based outcomes will be penalized anywhere from four to nine percent of their reimbursements. That four to nine percent then will get reallocated to those physician practices, who will receive bonuses because they can track and prove outcomes. It’s estimated that $55 billion will change hands, and this will increase over time.

The good news is that most practices have now moved onto EHRs, at least laying a basic foundation for tracking and measuring outcomes. The next step is for EHRs to automate the collection and reporting of quality measures so practices can more easily show that they are compliant with what the government requires for Medicare Part B.

In 2018, look for next-generation EHR technology that provides this in an efficient way by combining customized templates to collect the data with real-time dashboards that track scoring and performance. The changing regulations are new to everyone, so vendors that can provide a level of support to build plans for each client are going to be in high demand.

4. Standardizing on the cloud.

As we move towards value-based care, practices are realizing that the legacy, client-server systems that worked in a fee-for-service model are no longer sufficient. Value-based care requires an entirely new approach to business infrastructure and technology — one that supports a higher level of data sharing and collaboration between payers, providers and consumers (not to mention a higher frequency of updates needed to keep up to date with changing regulations). Expect to see an accelerated shift towards cloud-based systems in 2018.

I believe 2018 will be a transformational year for healthcare technology. I’ve visited and connected with our most forward-thinking customers across the country, and I’ve heard what they’ve got cooking. I know that these high-performing medical groups will be using technology in new and innovative ways — to differentiate their practices, to attract new patients, and to support clinical quality and cost-management initiatives. And where they go, others will follow.

This article originally appeared in LinkedIn.

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