Experts point out that the U.S. healthcare system is moving toward a financial model that is based on value rather than volume. Whereas historically each patient visit to a doctor’s office or emergency room was seen as a revenue opportunity, healthcare systems are now more focused on keeping people healthy and out of the hospital. We can expect this evolution in healthcare to improve the patient experience and help strengthen customer loyalty, build reputation and brand, and even improve the overall health of our communities. And for patients, remaining healthy means spending less money on healthcare, using less time to receive care, and encountering less inconvenience.
Here are four specific 2019 healthcare trends that aim to create more value and less volume of patient visits:
Deeper Connectivity Between Health Plans and Health Systems
The traditional approach for health plans has been to offer a list of in-network providers and leave the rest of healthcare planning largely in the patient’s hands. This strategy is changing as health plans realize that physicians need the details of patients’ plans to effectively coordinate care in the long term. Now, health plans and health systems are beginning to work together more closely to achieve better patient care.
Some patients are surprised when they visit a new doctor for the first time and find that their medical history is not on file. But the doctor has no way of knowing this information beforehand. Health insurance providers can provide this complete information while still leaving the details of care to the physician’s purview. Privacy precautions will certainly need to be observed, but health plans are already subject to the stringent privacy restrictions of HIPAA.
More Convenient Health Care Record Technology
You have likely already noticed new technology in use at your doctor’s office as electronic health records have been widely adopted. As technology continues to improve and becomes more accessible, it will play a larger role in everyday healthcare. Certainly, this statement is true when it comes to facets like advanced diagnostic imaging and robotic-assisted surgery, but technology is also useful in the more mundane aspects of healthcare, such as in better recordkeeping and more convenient communication between doctors and patients.
More Focus on the Patient
The MACRA Act, a 2015 Medicare law, authorized incentives to physicians that provide high-quality care, or more specifically, quality of care over quantity of patients. Instead of simply “treating and releasing” a patient, MACRA has encouraged doctors to take a more holistic view of their patients rather than only treating the illness. This attitude drives greater patient satisfaction, higher quality of care, and improved quality of life for patients.
Here’s an example: Say a patient with diabetes visits their primary care doctor and reports high blood sugars. The physician could just increase their dose of insulin or other medication and instruct the patient to check back at a certain time. Instead, the physician chooses to treat the patient instead of only treating the diabetes, and they check the patient’s family history, inquire about their diet and exercise regimen, and set up nutritional counseling. Hypothetically, these actions would result in better health for the patient, fewer future visits, and maybe even help avoid the need for hospitalization.
Drive Toward Population Health
Health data on patient populations is important for much more than tracking the spread of infectious diseases. Such information can also help identify emerging problems and can be useful in effectively treating these issues. For example, population health data can help physicians discover why people in a certain county suffer from a greater rate of heart disease compared to people in the next county over. If risk factors from lifestyle choices or the environment can be removed, the need for ER visits and doctor’s appointments should decrease.
As technology improves, health plans and health systems increase their cooperation, and healthcare becomes more patient-focused, the availability of population health data will continue to increase throughout 2019 and beyond.