This is the time of year for looking ahead. If your New Year’s resolutions included getting a handle on the challenges your medical practice will face in 2017 and beyond, it might be worth paying attention to several things on the horizon and a few closer in.
2016 saw its share of data breaches. FierceHealth reports 25 million patient records had been compromised as of October 2016, and 57 health data breaches were reported in the month of November. Unfortunately, turning a page on the calendar won’t make this problem go away. One SC Media prediction for 2017 states the proliferation of ransomware and internet-connected devices will result in “life threatening” scenarios such as attackers demanding ransom to regain control over a self-driving car or medical device.
Losses at larger systems and hospitals got most of the headlines, but smaller practices are not immune to this threat. Take a page from major systems and have a thorough plan for dealing with data loss, staying in compliance and protecting patients as much as possible—preferably before it becomes necessary. Fortunately, many practices are taking the threat seriously enough to take action to keep their data safe.
There are plenty of EHRs that tailor their products to small practices. To find one that’s right for your office most likely means you will need to focus on overall cost and ease of use. If these are your two top priorities, a cloud-based option is probably the best choice for your practice, rather than a system that requires on-premises hosting servers and support.
Revenue cycle management, the financial process to track patients’ treatments from registration to appointment and scheduling the final bill payment, is also moving to the cloud. Revenue cycle management couples the administrative data with other personal details as well as the treatment given to the patient. Companies debuted a range of healthcare revenue cycle management options for providers in 2016.
Other medical practices in your area are likely familiar, congenial adversaries, but now there are newcomers. Keep an eye on the growing trend toward microhospitals, standalone emergency departments, urgent care centers, and bed-less hospitals. Large systems are lining up to provide a widening variety of outpatient services, affecting the time-honored physician-patient relationship. Some patients say they don’t see the need for such a close relationship anymore, preferring the quicker and more convenient access provided by an urgent care center.
The GOP’s new repeal-and-replace (-regret?) game plan might be disruptive, but the early signals are mixed. The bombast could blow over, producing few changes in 2017, or it could unleash destructive forces on already beleaguered small practices.
If the new administration quickly moves to gut or repeal the Affordable Care Act and no replacement is forthcoming, your practice might explore ways to retain patients who lose coverage. If more patients are forced to purchase high-deductible catastrophic coverage plans—as some predict will happen— what does that mean for routine office visits, lab work, and your billing department?
There may be strength in numbers as the new healthcare realities come into focus. A recent survey found nearly 60 percent of American Medical Group Association members would embrace alternatives to fee-for-service payments within two years, Modern Healthcare reported. More medical practices are willing to take on financial risk under an alternative-pay model, but they say they can’t find insurance companies with which to partner.
If you’re considering an affiliation, you have lots of company. Available partners might include a local hospital system or insurers, as well as other physicians. As with seemingly everything else in the healthcare landscape, however, new care and payment programs such as accountable care organizations (ACOs) are in flux.
Under an ACO arrangement, a medical group is paid a lump sum for care of a patient. The group could profit if the patient is treated cost-effectively and meets certain quality standards. However, if the patient gets care that is deemed unnecessary or is hospitalized for a preventable condition, the medical group can lose money. While the Trump administration may slow the push in this direction, insurers and others predict the shift to new models is unlikely to change.
The year that just ended was “interesting” for medical practices, to say the least, and it looks like 2017 will probably be anything but dull, so it will behoove us all to pay attention.
Last Updated on February 22, 2017