"In the end, the problem is one of resilience. American doctors need an internal compass to navigate the changing landscape of our profession. For most doctors, this compass begins and ends with their patients."
Dr. Sandeep Jauhar
The Wall Street Journal
The perception of the healthcare field is that it is stable, stoic, and trusted. In fact, it’s undergoing explosive growth as new technologies are invented and new ways of treating patients are systematized.
Making the decision to add these new technologies to your practice causes a ripple that affects staff, patients, and even the communities you serve.
This article will talk candidly about how physicians and their team adapt to all of these changes and how technology may actually lighten our load – not add to it.
The Challenge of Change
Sometimes we think that doctors are reluctant to launch a telehealth service line in their practice not because they’re worried about the technology, but because they’re wary of embracing one more new thing.
It’s true that every year in practice seems to bring new challenges, from changing (and declining) reimbursement, increasing regulatory scrutiny, the opioid epidemic, nursing shortages, and so much more.
The small independent practice has to deal with everything from market share encroachment by big branded health systems to capital expenditures to keep up with the latest technology, not to mention the complexities of the revenue cycle.
Large health systems are still struggling to improve the performance of their physician practices. And very few of them know what to do with all the data they collect. Population health is an unfulfilled great idea in most hospitals, as we attempt a paradigm shift toward more proactive care. The reality is that change is slow and incremental in this area.
The latest changes we’re facing are in the patients themselves. They are increasingly time-strapped and impatient, no matter their age. That’s because they have embraced the immediacy of the Internet, demanding faster and more efficient service from all their trusted “vendors.”
In healthcare, this has translated into new trends that seek to create a better patient experience, price transparency, data warehouses, and smarter workflows that incorporate telehealth, EMR, and e-prescribing technologies – to name a few.
Technology is a way to cope with the increasingly fast workflows demanded of the modern practice. It has changed the way we do business, but there is a debate in our profession as to whether technology has been worth the investment in time and money. We hear this especially in the small practice, and from physicians that are nearing retirement.
On the flip side, provider shortages and increasing demand for healthcare as the Baby Boomer population ages, is putting additional strains on an overburdened system of care. Anything that improves the efficiency of service delivery and quality of care should, in theory, help ameliorate our systemic struggles.
Can technology provide the answer to these and other problems plaguing the U.S. healthcare system?
Is Technology the Answer?
“Affordable technology, widespread Wi-Fi, social media, and a greater acceptance of sharing data are radically changing how healthcare providers engage with and monitor the wellbeing of consumers."
Any doctor knows the right tool can make all the difference. In the case of the 2018 medical practice, we believe the right tool is telehealth. It’s a technology that can provide the same level of communication as a face-to-face visit, but for a fraction of the cost.
But telehealth, also called e-health or telemedicine, is just one technology designed around patient care. Just look at some of the trends we’ll see in the future:
- KPMG suggests that 3D printed casts, artificial intelligence, and ingestible sensors are just some of the technology advances that will become a standard part of the practice of medicine in the years to come.
- Telemedicine Magazine reviewed several of the newest devices on the market recently under the headline “More Disruption, Please.” Soon, cardiologists will routinely monitor medical-grade EKGs on their smartphones and brain trauma patients will be routinely monitored on the same type of platform.
Beyond new technologies that seek to improve healthcare, the biggest change coming to our practices is that medical care is increasingly becoming a service. This trend started with Minute Clinics, as pharmacy chains and big box stores added lower cost and faster services in a retail setting. CNN Tech reports that computer behemoth Apple is set to open their own on-site medical clinics for employees, while 34% of American businesses are planning on doing the same. The impact on your practice is clear; while specialty providers should see a steady stream of referrals by building these relationships, to the primary care provider this is just another market share encroachment.
It’s true that employers are seeking new ways to cut costs; the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) says, “Medical cost inflation remains unsustainably high.” PWC says employers are expecting medical costs will continue to rise to record levels with no end in sight. How can technology help with these issues?
Telehealth is just one of the technologies driving changes in your practices. All the latest signs point to a rapid increase in the volume of virtual visits being conducted across the country. That’s because two of the key benefits are that they cut overhead costs while allowing us to increase patient volumes. The math is documented plainly with real revenue cycle impact. But what is telehealth if doctors and patients don’t like the service?
A 2017 study published in BMC Medical Informatics and Decision-Making surveyed nearly 800 physicians to determine their perception of e-health applications. The survey found:
- Doctors defined telemedicine as useful in their practice.
- They said it helped with therapeutic compliance and patient health.
The Chicago Tribune reported earlier this year that even our oldest patients prefer the convenience of seeing our doctor from the privacy and comfort of their home.
The bottom line for the technology-reluctant physician is that these changes are coming whether we want them or not. However, we know that these new models must help us change in ways that improve our efficiency. Technologies such as telehealth have been designed specifically to facilitate a more efficient practice while improving the convenience of consumers is just one of the ways our clinics will change – for the better.