2019 promises to be a year that brings some big changes to healthcare, from AI to increased emphasis on patient satisfaction. We’ve polished off our crystal ball once again for 2019, to take a look at six healthcare predictions that are most likely to affect your practice in 2019.
1. AI will stride into healthcare
The world has been expecting AI to take over for a long time, but 2019 promises to be the year that it finally makes a real impact on healthcare. According to Forrester’s 2019 Healthcare Industry Predictions, two-thirds of patients will be affected by AI solutions without their knowledge.
The rise in health apps and digital health solutions means even more data is channeled towards healthcare providers. Big data gives medical and surgical practices insights into patient’s health and behavior patterns, allowing them to deliver better treatment. But the flood of data is only useful when it’s mined for actionable information. AI and machine learning are vital tools needed to analyze and interpret it. Healthcare organizations need to learn how to interpret the data and set processes in place to implement learnings.
2. Patient satisfaction is moving into prime focus
The healthcare infrastructure has lagged behind every other industry in terms of customer satisfaction for far too long. 2019 is the year that it’s all going to change. Pressure from disruptors like Amazon and Walmart are driving healthcare providers to give more attention to patient satisfaction metrics.
As noted in the Forrester report, practices are going to have to improve the way that they measure patient happiness. The best providers will access real-time, detailed, specific customer responses to discover what matters most to their patients, and adjust their approach accordingly.
When asking patients what satisfies them, the results may be surprising. The Cleveland Clinic ran a patient satisfaction study over the last few years. They expected wait times to be extremely important to patients’ levels of satisfaction. However, while wait times were an issue for patients, what mattered far more was getting to see a doctor who treated them with respect, interacting with happy employees, and viewing clear communication between doctors, nurses, and administrative staff.
3. Relevant data pushes out big data
While big data is all the rage, it can be extremely overwhelming. Instead of sifting through the mass of data, healthcare providers are more inclined to turn to data sets that are most relevant to their specialty and their specific objectives. Surgical practices and hospitals are more likely to focus on one data analysis goal at a time so that they can make a real difference to particular aspects of healthcare delivery. This can include billing discrepancies, drug utilization, clinical trial eligibility, and tracking treatment variability. If you’re a surgical practice, assessing the success of implementing a surgery cancellation fee, or centralizing benefits are top priority. By the end of this year, predictions are that at least half of all healthcare providers will have acquired tools to leverage small-scale data.
4. Drop in Obamacare signups could leave surgical practices treating patients who lack coverage
2019 looks like the year that Trump may succeed in undermining Obamacare. Signups for 2019 have already dropped significantly, partly because of a marked reduction in funding for advertising the open seasons. The drop is also partly due to this year’s anticipated repeal of penalties for not buying health insurance. This is predicted to lead 13 million healthy people to drop their health insurance policies, causing a large reduction in funding from their premium.
Trump has given guidance to states about how they can weaken Obamacare. Allowing Americans to use their subsidies to buy coverage outside of the Obamacare exchanges is likely to lead them to the new, cheaper programs which provide a lower level of coverage. By permitting states to offer alternative healthcare insurance programs, there’s a real risk that the ACA system will run out of money for healthcare.
All of this leaves healthcare providers facing uncertainty about their income. With fewer patients signed up to Obamacare policies, surgical practices should prepare to deal with patients who lack sufficient coverage. There’s also a risk that surgical patients who have bought the necessary policies will be left uncovered by a system that lacks the money to pay for their procedures.
5. Small practices continue to be swallowed by hospitals
From mid-2015 to mid-2016, hospitals bought out 5,000 physician-owned practices, 14,000 doctors became hospital employees, and the percentage of practices owned by hospitals rose from 8% to 47% across the country. The trend is no real surprise; the system run by the government and health insurance companies favors larger systems that have more financial clout.
This impacts physicians and their patients in a number of ways:
- Surgeons in physician-led practices enjoy more flexibility in scheduling, thanks to overall shorter work hours. They also have more say in practice management. For surgeons, ownership by hospitals can mean less autonomy and flexibility at work.
- Patients notice that physician-owned practices are more communal and friendly in feel. At hospital-owned practices, patient care could become less personal.
- Larger hospital-owned practices pass on higher costs to patients and healthcare systems such as Medicare because procedures performed in a hospital outpatient setting are priced higher than when carried out in a physician’s practice or ASC.
- Physicians and patients at a hospital-owned practice can’t choose as widely between different independent healthcare services. They’ll generally have to use the same network as the owner hospital instead of picking and choosing the best options available.
- Many of the small physician-owned practices that remain will face an even bigger struggle to stay afloat, facing the double whammy of high costs along with increased price competition from larger merged practices.
6. The lack of urologists hits home
According to a 2016 report by the Association of American Medical Colleges, the US faces a lack of up to 97,000 doctors in the next decade. But the specialty most affected is urology, with a projected chasm of more than 50%. The gap is greatest in rural areas and will only increase as older urologists retire.
This will have a trickle-down effect for patients, because wait times to see a urologist will increase – due to demand. Wait times for surgery will probably also take a hit, and this could have a significant effect on mortality rates across the country. Areas that aren’t served by a urologist show a marked increase in deaths from bladder, renal, and prostate cancers. An aging population needs urologists more than a younger one.
.. And that’s our summary of what 2019 could bring to healthcare. Here’s to a healthy and happy new year!