Given their smaller size and reduced resources, private practices usually aren’t trailblazers when it comes to healthcare trends. That role usually falls to larger hospital networks that can afford to implement costly pilot programs.
However, just because they’re not cutting-edge doesn’t mean private practices can keep doing things the way they’ve always done them. Here are eight trends that private practices should keep an eye on during the rest of the 2020s, from telehealth appointments to industry consolidation.
The COVID-19 pandemic caused a steep rise in telehealth appointments because people did not want to go to the doctor in person and potentially expose themselves to the virus. Telehealth appointments are often more convenient for both patients and providers because they do not have to commute or sit in a waiting room.
Obviously, in-person healthcare will never go away, but more and more patients are coming to expect a telehealth option and more insurance companies are covering it. So far, big hospital networks have led the way in telehealth due to their increased resources, and now, even private practices are expected to have a telehealth option for their patients.
However, telehealth does present its own challenges, such as when a patient does not have an internet connection, which affects equitable access. Despite these challenges, telehealth is expected to rise as a trend in healthcare.
The transition to electronic health records is now complete, which means there is a lot of digital healthcare data being collected that needs to be protected. Implementation of healthcare technology like telehealth further increases the need for cybersecurity.
Private practices need to have a plan in place about how they will defend against cyberattacks and what they will do if a data breach does happen. Private practices may not be used to putting the same resources that a large hospital does (in terms of money or personnel) into IT and data security, but this will become essential in the future to protect patient information and reduce risk of lawsuits.
AI Analysis of Medical Data
All this healthcare data can also be very difficult to sort through. In many cases, it would be too time-consuming or even impossible for a human to perform this kind of analysis manually, which is why AI can prove a helpful tool in analyzing the data and identifying trends.
Large hospital networks are leading the way in developing and implementing these beginning AIs, but as the technology becomes more sophisticated and the cost comes down, private practices will need to start relying on them more, too.
The one-size-fits-all healthcare approach is slowly falling out of favor, especially when it comes to medications. Thanks to advances in healthcare technology, such as genomics and AI, providers now know more about an individual patient’s needs than ever before. This allows doctors to get very precise when putting together a treatment plan, right down to the exact dosage of a medication that will be most effective for a particular patient.
While this is only the start of personalized medicine, it’s expected that this will become a huge trend in the next 5 to 10 years. Private practices should start preparing for it now, so they aren’t left behind.
Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality
Virtual reality and augmented reality are offering new opportunities for both training and treatment. For safety and insurance purposes, virtual reality lets providers practice at surgery, and augmented reality can help guide them during the actual procedure. One development that is further off is creating a virtual patient, or a digital twin, that will allow providers to run a series of simulated treatments and pick the one that will be most effective for an individual patient.
VR and AR tech is still in the relatively early stages, but private practices still need to keep an eye on them and think about ways they can implement these technologies to remain competitive.
The pandemic really put a spotlight on behavioral health, as many people started experiencing depression and anxiety with a new severity. Telehealth also made it easier than ever to get behavioral health support because patients can chat with a therapist without ever leaving the house. More insurance companies are covering behavioral healthcare, and more employers are investing in mental health support for employees, which further accelerates this.
Providers are also learning more about the role that mental health plays in physical health and referring patients to therapists and psychiatrists more and more. Even if private practices don’t provide behavioral health services themselves, they need to be aware of this trend and look into establishing referral relationships with psychologists and psychiatrists in their area.
Healthcare staffing shortages already existed before 2020, but COVID-19 exacerbated this issue. Providers are burned out and quitting healthcare altogether, which puts more pressure on the remaining doctors and nurses. Young people are also reconsidering careers in healthcare because they see how doctors and nurses are suffering, which means the pipeline of new talent is drying up.
This staffing shortage will continue to put pressure on the entire healthcare industry, including private practices, as we move further into the 2020s. If they want to remain competitive in the labor market, private practice will need to offer good salaries and benefits as well as an appealing workplace culture in order to encourage in-demand healthcare workers to come join them.
Another trend that was happening before COVID-19 is industry consolidation, meaning bigger hospital networks or large private practices are buying up smaller private practices. These bigger networks can usually offer more affordable care, but it’s often at the expense of a more personalized experience.
If enough consolidation happens, healthcare in a particular region can turn into a monopoly, with the reigning hospital network setting prices and administering care at will, as there is no other hospital big enough to challenge them. Private practices that don’t want to sell will need to find a way to differentiate themselves and hold onto their business as larger hospital networks apply more pressure to sell.
Private practices often look to advanced technology to keep up with and compete against the big hospitals. At Technology Advice, we can help you find the perfect tools for your business, whether you need a better EHR system or medical billing software. Browse all of our medical software guides or reach out to us for a free personalized consultation with one of our unbiased experts.