Healthcare News & Insights

4 healthcare trends to watch in 2015

488642435As 2014 draws to an end, there are several trends in the healthcare industry that hospital executives need to be watching in 2015.

Not only will these trends affect how facilities get paid in the new year, they’ll also shape care decisions and budgeting concerns going forward.

Pricewaterhouse Coopers recently released a report highlighting some of the heavy hitters for 2015. Here are the top four trends you need to keep your eye on next year:

1. Patient privacy v. convenience

Between electronic medical records (EHR) systems and online patient portals, it’s easier than ever for patients to access data about their health. And patients have come to expect this access from all healthcare providers, including hospitals.

While being able to view their health records and order prescription refills online is convenient for patients, it also carries a great deal of risk. Data breaches are on the rise, in part because it’s also easier for hackers to gain unauthorized access to patients’ records.

Patients are concerned about privacy issues. In fact, many rank data security over convenience when it comes to factors like test results, doctors’ notes and medication information. But patients are also willing to share this information with the right people when it’s necessary for their medical care. And if they feel it’s not being shared securely, they’re likely to seek care somewhere else.

So it’s important for hospitals to strike the correct balance between on-demand access to medical data and keeping health information secure. In 2015, and moving forward, hospitals must stay on top of any potential security threats, evaluate just who has permission to access patient data (and whether they’ve received the correct security training) and create policies that emphasize security and open access to data.

Hospitals could take a page on how to approach this process (and what not to do) by looking at other industries’ responses to large-scale data breaches, particularly the retail industry.

2. Rise of patient apps

Along with a growing desire to have access to their own medical data, more patients want an easy way to track their health, including personal vital signs and eating habits.

That’s where apps come in.

Patients who want to take charge of their own health can do so via mobile apps from smartphones and tablets. And in 2015, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will be reviewing a record number of these apps to determine if they meet the agency’s standards for medical use.

The FDA will be looking at apps that serve multiple purposes, from remotely controlling and monitoring medical devices to allowing people to track their own fitness data.

So hospitals could very well be incorporating mobile apps into their standard treatment plans for patients. Existing apps already allow cardiologists to remotely monitor patients’ hearts and radiologists to interpret images on smartphones. Similar apps could be coming down the pipeline next year.

3. DIY health care

Tools such as apps can get patients more engaged in their own health care. And it’s going to get more important for patients to be active participants in their care and treatment.

Hospitals and other healthcare providers are being called upon to help lower rising healthcare costs, and the potential for patients to monitor their own conditions with intuitive medical devices and apps can help drive spending down.

Medical devices are becoming sophisticated enough to be capable of transmitting data directly to a provider via an EHR, or even just through a secure Internet connection. Hospital staff can analyze this data remotely and make decisions on whether a patient needs to come in for a hospital stay or further treatment.

This eliminates the cost incurred for the patient to visit the facility for tests and in-person monitoring.

Devices and apps may also contribute to the rise of telehealth, which is gaining popularity because of its excellent results at lowering costs.

Hospital executives should check to see if their IT infrastructure could handle such technology in the coming year, and give serious thought to using DIY health data to make patients and their families more active partners in their hospital treatment and follow-up care.

4. Taming the “1 percent”

It’s a statistic that’s constantly cited in discussions of healthcare policy and cutting costs: 1% of patients in the United States drive 20% of the country’s healthcare spending.

“Dual eligibles,” or patients who receive both Medicaid and Medicare, are some of the biggest offenders. And it’s often because they don’t get timely treatment for their conditions, or don’t keep up with their recovery instructions – so they end up needing more intense, expensive care down the line.

In the coming year, hospitals and health systems need to focus on finding innovative ways to care for the patients that are contributing the most to healthcare costs. Care delivery should focus on providing value and quality – and nipping health problems in the bud before they get worse.

One strategy that can accomplish this goal: Hospital partnerships with community organizations, clinics and nonprofits to bolster coordination of care and keep patients from being readmitted. Another tactic to try is providing patients with telehealth services once they’re discharged. Hospitals can also make more of an effort to personally follow up with patients after they leave the hospital using strategies like check-in phone calls.

These tactics can keep patients from seeking out more expensive healthcare services, such as emergency room visits, keeping spending in check.

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