2017 has been quite a dizzying year for the medical world. Major health reform, the imminent rise in patient consumerism, and the most destructive cyber-attacks we have ever experienced as an industry, just to name a few. But it wasn’t all doom and gloom. The future of healthcare trends in 2018 indicate a bright future. We’re seeing giant leaps in artificial intelligence capabilities to improve healthcare from all ends of the spectrum, health systems and payers banning together to create better patient care, and providers pushing the envelope to interact with patients through their most beloved social platforms. Let’s discuss them all and how to embrace these changes going into 2018.
The Rise of Self-paying Patients
Now that high-deductible health plans (HDHPs) are approaching half of all employer-based coverage and individual policies, there has been a major shift in financial responsibility and patients are being forced to re-examine their budgets. This has become the fuel that will propel patient consumerism forward into 2018. Now that many patients have control over health spending, they’re beginning to window shop for routine services. To be clear, the chances of a patient switching providers for a surgical procedure or treatment for a chronic illness are extremely low. When it comes to unique services and major procedures, patients are willing to bite the bullet and pay more if it means they’re treated by someone they know and trust. In fact, there are statistics that show this to be true. However, for routine services like dental, orthodontics and vision, patients are much more likely to compare providers and choose the lower-cost option.
Takeaways - In a sea of providers, how do you stand out? Being proactive in communicating estimated out-of-pocket costs strengthens consumer relationships, especially among young and/or price sensitive patients. If you can, tell patients upfront how much services will cost. More than anything, patients want transparency from a provider. Educate patients on your payment policies as well. Any information about co-pays at time of service, your provider networks, and co-insurance should be provided up front. Also, consider patient payment solutions like online payment portals and payment plans.
These tools help patients feel more in control of their spending while your practice collects faster. Check out this blog, "The Rise of Window Shopping," for more information about collecting on high-deductible patients.
Social Media and Thought Leadership
I can’t speak enough to the importance of providers interacting with their patients online. This isn’t a trend anymore; it has become a key role in many providers’ marketing strategies. Health organizations with an active online presence are gaining much more exposure than those without. The possibilities are endless. On a daily basis, I scroll through my company’s social media feeds and see hospitals live tweeting surgeries, YouTube channels dedicated to patient stories, and even providers adopting the use of Snapchat to cater Generation Z patients and their families. This will only intensify in 2018. In fact, every minute there are 452,000 tweets sent, 120 new LinkedIn accounts created, 46,200 Instagram posts, and 900,000 Facebook logins with more than 50% on a mobile device.
Takeaways - If you’re reading this and thinking, “Oh no, we don’t use social media, what do we do?!” You’re probably experiencing an overwhelming feeling to do everything at once. Trust me when I say that attempting to juggle five social media platforms is not the answer. Choose your platforms carefully because your choices should depend on your clients. Organizations with the best social strategy decide what content will suit their ideal audience, then choose platforms that will offer the best potential reach.
If you don’t take the time to do that, then stop while you’re ahead because you will certainly waste your time. On the other hand, if you’re a medical practice, social media isn’t always the best option from a marketing standpoint if you work in an industry that is non-patient facing. That’s where “Thought Leadership” comes in, which basically means that patients will seek you out for expertise and thought provoking content. I go into much more detail about thought leadership in a post, "How to Become a Non-patient Thought Leader."
Artificial Intelligence in Healthcare Information Technology
The world has made giant leaps and bounds in terms of artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities in medicine. There is promise in having the ability to detect disease, assist repetitive jobs, and even take form of online medical consultations for patients. One aspect of artificial intelligence that has gone largely untapped is medical billing. There is room for a lot of improvement here because humans make mistakes, plain and simple. The human brain has extraordinary abilities to process information and solve complex problems, but we mess up. Medical coders sometimes code incorrectly. Doctors will occasionally charge a patient twice for the same service. Practices often lose money on patients because they don’t realize upfront they need a payment plan to pay their medical bills. The list goes on and on, but AI is what will eventually fill in the gaps of manual error.
Takeaways - There is a lot of talk that AI will ultimately replace jobs, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Artificial intelligence is meant to compliment the abilities of employees and help detect problems sooner, making staff workflow much more efficient. For example, ImagineAI™ is an artificial intelligence solution that helps identify appropriate patient coverage, evaluates the patient’s ability to pay, and customizes billing messaging based on that information. It helps billing staff identify what patients are most likely to pay their bills and who will not, that way the practice can appropriately determine the number of statements and write-off rules. Ultimately, this type of artificial intelligence streamlines revenue cycle processes and helps the patient pay their medical bills, helping to define the patient financial experience.
A company is hit with ransomware every 40 seconds. That statistic, believe it or not, tripled compared to last year. Unfortunately, the health sector is an easy target for cyber criminals because of medical record value on the dark web, which is actually valued much higher than credit card information. Healthcare is also an easy target because of its vast ecosystem. There are so many interconnected individuals that have access to medical and billing records – patients, dependents, specialists, physicians, hospitals, billing service providers, health insurers, etc, creating a higher likelihood that cyber criminals will find a way in.
Takeaways - No one is truly safe from cyberattacks, but there are steps that can be taken to mitigate risk. One of the top contributors to cybersecurity risk areas are caused by individuals forgetting to follow basic safety rules like locking desktops when they leave the office, or forgetting to regularly change passwords. It seems too simple, but cyber criminals will always reach for the lowest hanging fruit if it’s available. Health organizations need to push hard for the establishment of organization-wide security culture. Data security practice should become second-nature to staff and executive teams. Once that mindset becomes part of an organization's core values, a long-lasting security environment is created, both beneficial to the health and safety of patients and businesses. We discuss what it means to create a security culture in much more detail in the article, "Cybersecurity in Healthcare, and You."
End-to-end Revenue Cycle Solutions
To compete in today’s medical billing landscape, companies can no longer focus on one aspect of the revenue cycle. Providers are experiencing a myriad of financial challenges: reduced reimbursement due to patient financial responsibility, quality-based physician reporting under MACRA, growing prior authorization requirements, the list goes on and on. 2017 was the year of mergers and acquisitions in healthcare, with many organizations banning together in an attempt to improve the healthcare experience. Now more than ever, providers are eliminating vendors that address one or only a few aspects of the revenue cycle.
Takeaways 2018 will be a huge transitional year for many practices, moving towards partners who can manage the entire revenue cycle process from end-to-end. Especially now with a new component thrown into the mix - the patient experience - expectations are high. Now, vendors must not only provide solutions for practice management and process workflow automation, they must also provide solutions that will improve the patient financial experience. This is where having a partner in patient payment portals and patient payment plans will be crucial when obtaining new patients into the new year.
Healthcare leaders who take advantage of emerging trends in healthcare will find themselves at the forefront of an industry increasingly defined by compliance and operational quality.