Success in 2015 requires clear thinking and decisive action. Whether independent or hospital/system-owned, medical groups cannot continue to do business as usual and expect to succeed in 2015. Increasing financial pressures, the move to fee-for-value, and increased expectations for quality require new ways of doing business. Here are the top 10 trends for 2015 that can provide direction and focus as medical groups plan for the year ahead.
1. A focus on performance optimization is necessary for success. Medical groups can no longer be satisfied with median performance. Medical groups that are not pushing themselves to excel will find themselves left behind as top performers emerge and gain market dominance. Also, as financial pressures increase for hospitals and health systems, they will no longer be able to sustain the high losses experienced by many hospital-owned medical groups. It is critical that medical groups assess their performance as compared to industry best practices and implement a performance improvement plan to address any deficits. To sustain forward momentum, medical groups should establish clear accountabilities for performance throughout the medical group by creating measurable performance standards, continually measuring performance against targets through the use of dashboard reports, developing action plans to address variances, and incorporating performance expectations into job descriptions.
2. Patient collections cannot be ignored. With the increase in high deductible plans and patient copays, medical groups are seeing a significant increase in the dollars owed by patients. Therefore, an effective patient collection process that starts when the appointment is scheduled is critical to ensuring that all revenue owed is collected. When the appointment is scheduled, patients should be informed of copay and deductible amounts as well as outstanding balances, and the expectation that payment is due at the time of the visit should be established. Time of service collections should include collection of all monies owed for the services provided that day as well as any outstanding balances.
3. 2015 brings increasing competition from nontraditional organizations. New, non-traditional competitors are entering the outpatient medical care market. Retail firms such as WalMart, Walgreen’s, CVS, and RiteAid have created primary care clinics; while some have partnered with local providers, more often they have created their own clinics or partnered with national firms. Target and Kaiser Permanente have developed a partnership to provide primary and specialty care in clinics in Target stores that will be open to nonKaiser enrollees. Payers such as Anthem California are marketing e-visits directly to their enrollees bypassing the traditional in person physicianpatient relationship. Partnering with non-traditional organizations is an option that should be assessed as well as considering non-traditional practice locations. It is important to understand what patients want and expect of the practice to retain them. Regularly survey patients about their experience with the practice; consider the use of focus groups to gather more in-depth data on what is important to them.
4. Physician compensation models require redesign. As medical groups prepare for fee-for-value payment, increasing competition, and a focus on quality, there is likely a need to redesign their compensation model to better align incentives with the new environmental realities. What worked in the past is unlikely to work in the future. It is important to understand how quickly the market is shifting from fee-for-service to value-based payment in order to determine what needs to be changed and how quickly it needs to happen. Medical groups will want to develop a road map to broaden compensation incentives to prepare for fee-for-value payments. Consider adding incentives for care coordination, quality, and efficiency in addition to productivity. Initially, it may make sense to devote a small percentage of compensation to these new metrics to prepare for the future if the market is not demanding immediate change.
5. Transparency is becoming increasingly important. The era of transparency in cost and quality is here. Payers are publishing provider charges by Current Procedural Terminology (“CPT”) code; CMS has published Medicare payments made to physicians. Employers are demanding price transparency, especially as they move to high deductible plans and pass more cost on to their employees. States are creating multipayer pricing databases based on payer claims data and providing access to consumers. Many new websites enable consumers to shop price and quality. Quality is being tracked more vigilantly, and quality scores are readily available to the consumer through a variety of websites. With all of this data available, it is important that medical groups understand how their pricing and quality compare to their competitors and take action to ensure that high prices and poor quality do not cost them patients.
6. Mastery of technology cannot be ignored. Medicare demands that medical groups report on quality or face penalties, and payers increasingly link payments to quality reporting or results. Therefore, medical practices need to be able to collect, analyze, and exchange data. Also, as expenses increase, and operational demands become increasingly complex, the ability to automate work is critical to improving efficiency. New care models increasingly rely on real-time access to patient clinical data as well as access to tools such as telemedicine or health monitoring devices. Effective use of technology to improve results is a necessary element for future success. Evaluating current work flows and looking for inefficiencies (e.g., duplicate data entry, multiple handoffs) can lead to identifying opportunities for automation. Explore the use of telephone technology to automate tasks such as appointment and payment balance reminders. Participate in a health information exchange that provides two-way communication and clinical results with hospitals, referring physicians, and other health providers. Use an electronic health record to assist clinicians in the care of their patients; the use of real-time prompts assists physicians in performing preventive services and informs them when test results are outside of normal.
7. Managing a population of patients requires new care delivery models. Managing a population of patients requires a change in how care is delivered. The focus is no longer on episodic care, but instead focuses on managing the total healthcare needs of a population of patients. The emphasis shifts to “providing the right care at the right time in the right place.” Redesigning care involves transforming both how care is delivered and who delivers the care. Re-examine roles within the practice to ensure that everyone is working to the top of their license/expertise. Successful management of a population of patients requires an expanded team approach to care. New care team members can include advanced practice clinicians, care managers, social workers, pharmacists, nutritionists, and health coaches with leadership and direction provided by the physician. Reexamine the workflow in the office to assure that as the care model evolves, the work flow is adapted to facilitate efficient use of space and staff. Explore the feasibility of using e-visits, tele-health, and group visits to improve access, responsiveness, and maximize patient engagement. Consider the operational and financial feasibility of implementing Medicare’s newly reimbursed chronic care management.
8. Patient engagement leads to better outcomes. Patients actively engaged in their care have better outcomes and utilize fewer health resources. In order to maximize patient engagement, medical practices must move from telling patients what to do to assisting them to develop the knowledge, skills, and confidence necessary to be an active partner in their care. Train physicians and staff on communication skills and motivational interviewing and integrate expectations into physician and staff performance expectations. Ensure that patients are actively engaged in discussing their health and developing their care plan. The use of patient portals can be an effective means of maintaining communication with patients and monitoring their adherence to care plans.
9. Patient demand for access is not going away. Thus, ensuring timely patient access has to be a medical group priority if the practice is to have satisfied patients. To understand patient access, routinely monitor third next appointment availability. Calculate the practice’s patient demand versus practice capacity, and implement strategies to increase capacity as needed. Consider allowing patients to schedule their own visits through a patient portal, providing evening and weekend hours, offering e-visits, and communicating by email and text. Practices should also employ strategies to facilitate regular communication with their patients through e-mail blasts, texting, and social media.
10. Physicians will continue to move toward the employment model. As the complexity of medical practice and economic pressures increases, and the demand for capital for practice infrastructure (e.g., electronic health record, care team staffing) grows, more physicians are choosing to become employed, and that trend is likely to accelerate over the next few years. This provides opportunities for existing medical groups and hospitals/health systems to add physicians to their practices as they seek to capture a greater population. To ensure a successful employment relationship, medical groups and physicians both need to clearly define their goals and expected outcomes and then develop a set of criteria to guide decisions as opportunities are considered.
As medical groups grapple with the many challenges of 2015, it is important to focus on optimizing performance and preparing for value-based reimbursement by meeting the needs of patients efficiently and effectively. Concentrate on how to create a strategic advantage by establishing capabilities or attributes that will distinguish your group from competitors. In difficult times like these, superior, nimble, focused performance will lead to success.
Ms. Witt is a senior vice president with The Camden Group and has over 25 years of healthcare experience. She has held management positions in hospitals, health systems, and management services organizations (MSOs). She has extensive experience in medical group and integrated delivery system development and management. This includes developing patient-centered medical homes, practice management, performance improvement, physician compensation, managed care, strategic planning, healthcare marketing, and physician recruitment. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 424-201-3971.