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8 Top Healthcare Trends for 2018

As healthcare professionals dive into a new year, uncertainty continues in this dynamic industry. What will happen with reimbursement? What advances will emerge in medical technology?

The overarching healthcare trend for 2018 is sure to be change—a continued evolution toward better care at less expense.

Staff Care spoke to some industry experts about specific healthcare trends for 2018 that providers can expect to see unfold.

EXPECT MORE from your career this year; find locum tenens jobs that fit your lifestyle.

Experts Predict These 8 Healthcare Trends in 2018:

1. Value-based reimbursement will make gains

In 2018, the healthcare industry will accelerate its shift toward value-based care as the industry struggles to address challenges associated with rising costs, an explosion of data, and increased mobility, said Joanna Gorovoy, senior director of product and solutions marketing for Axway, a Phoenix-based technology company that helps healthcare providers manage and protect their data.

“Along with evolving government policy, organizations across the healthcare ecosystem will face a rise in healthcare consumerism as patients bear more risk, face higher out-of-pocket costs and demand more value,” Gorovoy said.

2. Data-driven care to improve efficiencies, behaviors & outcomes

Transitioning to value-based care will require unlocking and deftly employing data to deliver personalized care and enhance patient outcomes, Gorovoy indicated.

Additionally, patients will increasingly use digital tools to make health decisions, said Susan Lucas Conwell, executive vice president of CSIRO, Australia’s government research organization.

“We will see more apps come online to help with things like choosing the right food to eat, tools which may alert you when you pick up the wrong food at the shops, and even applications to help you recover from surgery or improve rehabilitation,” Conwell said.

“A key trend will be a shift from monitoring behavior to shaping or breaking bad behavior,” she explained.

Technology will also help older adults stay at home longer, with support from telehealth and wearable sensors. Data will also help hospitals become more efficient, Conwell said.

“Currently, hospitals rely on estimates to plan staffing and resources,” Conwell said. “But in 2018 we can expect to see a new, real-time service modeling that can give hospitals new insights and a better ability to predict seemingly random events.”

3. Rising consumer demand for better service, convenient care

Patients are tired of waiting for appointments and sitting in waiting rooms during regular business hours. They want to be seen when it is convenient for them and not waste their time.

This demand has led to more retail clinics, which continue to show growth. Physician practices will need to come up with ways to compete. Some practices, such as Jewett Clinic and Cardiovascular Interventions, both in Orlando, Florida, operate convenient care clinics, which do not require appointments.

Michael Dowling, CEO of Northwell Health in Great Neck, New York, said that the era of healthcare consumerism forces everyone—including traditional providers—to do things differently and be more creative. Northwell plans to expand its ambulatory network in 2018.

The customer experience will separate winners and losers in the future, said Lindsay R. Resnick, a healthcare strategist in Chicago. He added that a better patient experience will require communication that creates value and deepens engagement.

“For healthcare consumers, value is the combination of price, product, access and service, a.k.a. convenience,” Resnick said.

4. AI to go from science fiction to medical reality

Population health and precision medicine are among the initiatives where artificial intelligence (AI) is expected to have the greatest impact, Gorovoy said.

“AI investment on population health, clinical decision support, patient diagnosis, and precision medicine supports the industry shift toward value-based, personalized-care models and reinforces the use of AI to augment intelligence and skills of physicians and drive efficiency in diagnosis and treatment,” Gorovoy added. 

Conwell also expects to see more innovation using AI in the coming year.

5. More physician employment opportunities

Physician-owned practices are no longer in the majority, according to the American Medical Association. As payment policies change, more physicians will find independent practice difficult to financially maintain.

The healthcare trends in 2018 will likely include more physicians seeking employment with health systems or larger practices.

More physicians and advanced practitioners are also expected to pursue temporary contracts as locum tenens providers. Working through a locums staffing agency like Locum Leaders, this arrangement offers flexibility, travel benefits, and other perks for independent providers.

6. More uninsured patients will affect healthcare delivery

The tax reform bill passed at the end of 2017 eliminated the tax penalty for people who did not purchase health insurance. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office predicted that 4 million fewer people would have coverage in 2019 and 13 million fewer by 2027. It is expected insurance premiums will go up and even more, people will drop coverage.

The PwC Health Research Institute anticipates more “efforts to reduce and cap federal Medicaid spending.”

The Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) remains in flux. Adults and youngsters will continue to get sick. They may wait longer to seek treatment, so when they do show up at the emergency department, they need more services.

Michael Munger, MD, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, explained that without CHIP, parents again would be reluctant to take children for routine, preventive, or sick care.

7. Possible reimbursement cuts and cost-cutting strategies

Insurers are designing plans to reduce healthcare costs. For instance, in 2017, Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield began holding patients responsible for ED care it deemed non-emergent. The insurer explained to members that urgent care centers, retail clinics, online consults, and nurse helplines were better options in a non-emergency.

The Statutory Pay-As-You-Go Act, passed in 2010, will require a 4 percent, $25 million cuts to Medicare payments to physicians and other healthcare providers each year for 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Munger expects if that happens, elderly and disabled patients will experience more difficulty accessing care.

Congress still could pass legislation to waive the trigger.

8. Shifts in opioid prescribing

The PwC report highlighted dealing with the opioid crisis as a top concern. It mentions that Aetna has already changed its formulary to mesh coverage with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for prescribing opioids. 

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