As we enter 2019, we’re more than a decade deep into the movement to digitize healthcare, as the industry continues to roll out impressive technologies. Simultaneously, we’ve embraced collaborative care and communication tools. Most realize that EHR use by healthcare providers correlates with higher productivity.

But regardless of all of the technology-inspired changes the healthcare industry has seen as we move deeper into a culture of value, one rule has remained constant: Providing high-quality care to patients.

With patient care at the heart of everything physicians, here are six of the biggest medical practice trends for 2019 and beyond:

1. ‘Provider collaboration’ will become essential

In 2019, a greater portion of healthcare spending will be allocated to value-based care models, which emphasize collaboration between healthcare providers. As a result, interoperability will no longer be a luxury, but a necessity for healthcare organizations. Going forward, physicians will have to weigh future technology investments and partnerships to ensure they support collaborative care. In order to support collaboration, physicians will require the right communications technology applications for their practices.

2. Efficiency will fuel sustainability

Volume-driven medicine is on the decline, but physicians are still incredibly busy. Consequently, providers are spending less time with patients, despite a desire to actually increase their time spent with patients during consultations. One recent study showed that 59 percent of doctors want to spend more  time with patients, but that time keeps declining — and the main contributing factor behind the decline is that doctors are being forced to allocate more time to doing paperwork. Therefore, the guiding point for technology purchasing decisions in 2019 will be how these tools can help providers — and organizations as a whole — be more efficient with their time throughout the day. Physicians want to spend time with their patients, not EHR documentation. To accomplish this, physicians should seek technology tools that enhance and support care, rather than adding undue documentation burdens. An easy-to-navigate interface and specialty-specific features are all aspects in technology that will empower greater efficiency for providers.

3. Providers will flock to telemedicine

Of all the recent technological innovations in healthcare, telemedicine is arguably the most popular – it’s cost-effective, offers convenience and expands access to care. Moving forward, reimbursement opportunities are opening up for providers who leverage telemedicine in their practices, thanks to the Chronic Care Act. As noted by Physicians Practice’s annual physician compensation report for 2018, eight percent of medical groups say they are charging patients for nontraditional care such as telemedicine. Physicians who aren’t yet offering access to virtual care services — either after hours or throughout the day — may find themselves left in the dust by patients who expect telemedicine from their healthcare providers.

4. Rising costs influence technology-purchasing decisions

Physician medical practices are experiencing multiple financial pressures, from rising overhead costs to the growth of high-deductible health plans among patients. As such, doctors simply cannot purchase and implement just any EHR system or tool. Instead, much more focus will need to be placed on the ROI provided by these tools. Doctors will gravitate toward EHRs and other applications that are more tailored to their needs. For example, a scheduling system that allows a practice to schedule consultations between multiple providers within a two-hour timeframe will save time and money. The increased specificity of these tools to the unique needs of practices will not only make providers more efficient, but the cost-effectiveness will also help increase ROI and lessen the weight of current financial burdens.

5. Direct pay and concierge medicine will grow

As payers become more cost-conscious, and insurance networks grow narrower, patients and physicians will start to explore concierge medicine models, which typically offer more personalized medical care in exchange for a surcharge (e.g., $2,000 per year). Physicians will gravitate toward concierge to avoid burnout, and practice more qualitative medicine, while patients will gravitate toward the deeper, more intimate doctor-patient relationships that are the byproduct of concierge medicine.

6. AI will help to automate care and more

In 2018, there were no shortages of stories about Artificial Intelligence (AI) and its promise to change the scope of medicine. From being able to detect genetic diseases by simply looking at a patient’s face to diagnosing the presence or absence of tuberculosis (TB) in chest X-Ray images, AI algorithms are empowering providers, and supercharging workflows. As we move into 2019, AI stories could reach fever pitch, as new machine-learning tools automate busy work for doctors, including documentation and repetitive tasks related to clinical care or billing.

Due to a steady flow of regulations and continual technological evolution, healthcare providers have their work cut out for them in 2019. But the right technology can support providers as they transition into value-based care, expand their services, and work to improve quality in order to remain successful in the new year.

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Charlie Hutchinson is the chief financial officer of InSync Healthcare, a provider of solutions for behavioral health and primary care practices that want to focus on patients, not technology.

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