The American Health Care Act has been pulled from consideration, which may cheer up some practices that were concerned about possible changes and ramifications of the bill. However, there are still several other trends in 2017 that will affect practices more immediately than any other health care reform legislation that may happen this year. For practices to truly thrive in 2017 and beyond, providers and practice managers must consider additional trends and address these topics sooner rather than later.
Patient engagement, health care IT and MACRA are just a few topics on which practices should be keeping a close eye. Here, we will take a deeper look at how these three trends are expected to affect the health care industry this year.
1. Patient Engagement
Keeping patients engaged in their preventive, maintenance and elective care will continue to be crucial this year for practice growth. It is encouraging that 70 percent of patients who participated in CDW Healthcare's 2017 Patient Engagement Perspectives Study say they have become more engaged in their care in the last two years—up from 57 percent in 2016. This is good news for practices across the board, but there’s still work to be done to increase this number even more.
Ensuring that patients continue to return to the practice for regularly scheduled checkups, upkeep and elective visits requires that the process provides each patient with communication, convenience and information access. Sending automated appointment reminders to patients’ mobile devices and using an online patient portal to securely message with providers are practical ways to facilitate these necessary communications. Offering medical chart access through the portal can also be effective for boosting engagement, which is perhaps why 74 percent of CDW Healthcare's survey participants reported they joined a patient portal—up from 45 percent in 2016.
Engaged patients are more likely to stay loyal to a practice, making them more inclined to select that practice for elective procedures or treatments. Strategic marketing and communications can help further motivate these patients to move forward with elective services, and—if used to their full potential—may even encourage them to invest in retail products offered by some specialty practices.
2. Health Care IT Trends
There are numerous health care IT trends to watch this year, but two stand out for health care practices in particular: the growth and adoption of cloud-based software solutions and the importance of data security.
Health care organizations continue to transition vital IT systems—including health information exchange, back-office systems, and human resources and financial applications—from on-premise equipment (traditionally "servers") to cloud-based solutions, according to the 2016 HIMSS Analytics Cloud Survey. The following are the top three advantages (according to users surveyed) for the transition from on-premise to cloud:
- Cost savings
- More robust disaster recovery
- More scalable platform for internal requirements
While the HIMSS Analytics Cloud Survey was based on responses from large, integrated organizations, general and specialty practices will see the same benefits of transitioning to the cloud as those surveyed.
Before any system deployment to the cloud, practices must ensure that patient and practice data will be protected from cyberattack. For the second year in a row, cyberattacks were the leading cause of protected health information (PHI) breaches in 2016, according to a Ponemon Institute study, and will continue to be an important trend to watch this year. Assessing vulnerabilities, implementing safeguards (such as data encryption), and then testing security measures can help prevent PHI breaches. Having a PHI breach can result in significant financial penalties from federal regulators, damage to reputation and loss of patient trust, so it is important for all practices to take cybersecurity seriously.
Regardless of any health care reform legislation that may pass this year, the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act’s (MACRA’s) Quality Payment Program (QPP)—which includes the Merit-based Incentive Payment System (MIPS) and the Advanced Alternative Payment Model (APM) tracks—will continue this year and are expected to stay in place for the next several years. In fact, new U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary, Tom Price, M.D., testified during his congressional confirmation hearing that he would direct the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services “to ensure that the [QPP] is structured to achieve its quality and budgetary goals, while ensuring that patients and the providers who care for them are at the center of our reform efforts.”
Practices should leverage 2017 as a “rehearsal year” for MACRA. CMS has offered “Pick-Your-Pace” options this year for MIPS participation, but these options will not be available in 2018. If physicians have previously completed Meaningful Use and PQRS measures successfully, then they can earn an incentive. If the practice continues the processes in place from previous reporting periods, providers can report MIPS for a full year to receive maximum incentive potential, especially since reporting burdens are currently reduced. Keep in mind that incentives are not only based on the amount of data submitted, but are more so focused on performance.
While there are many other trends to keep up with this year, practices that stay focused on these three key trends—engaging patients, securing data, and maximizing MACRA incentives—will position themselves to have a successful 2017 by staying ahead of the curve now and in the future.