Key Trends for 2016

As we head into 2016, it is important to think about some of the things that will impact physician practices in the year ahead.

• Patients are increasingly seeking healthcare-delivery services that are both accessible and quickly responsive to their needs. In 2016, convenience will continue to be a key factor in where patients choose to receive care, and emerging technologies will enhance accessibility to care by bringing care-delivery options to patients’ fingertips.

Store-based, limited-service clinics have made an impact on routine care delivery over the past few years and will continue to cater to patients who are in need of prompt treatment for low-acuity illnesses and injuries; quick access to sports, camp, or other physicals; administration of vaccines; or any other walk-in type of low-acuity illness. Meanwhile, urgent-care centers continue to be a focus for patients who are in need of immediate care but don’t warrant an emergency-department visit. In 2016, the continued pressure of high-deductible health plans will be one driver in patient decisions to obtain care in these environments.

• Integration of telemedicine into health-plan payment policies will expand access to physicians for patients both in terms of convenience and enhanced monitoring of chronically ill patients. 2016 is expected to be the year when physicians and their practices strategize on how to incorporate telemedicine into their operational and care-delivery processes for their patient population.

• Emerging technologies — such as the ability for physicians to connect with patients via a mobile-phone application — will change the physician-patient relationship. Additionally, FDA-approved mobile-phone applications, diagnostic wearable devices, and condition-specific monitoring devices will start to augment the largely consumer-driven self-monitoring health market. It is expected that technology development in this area will grow vigorously in 2016.

• Over the past few years, data has played a significant role in healthcare. This trend will continue, with practices increasingly focusing on understanding the practice’s patient population. New approaches will likely elevate the ability of the practice to monitor the health of chronically ill patients, determine the currently healthy patients that may be at risk down the line, and identify potential gaps in care. In 2016, data flow between systems will increase, which will help create linkage points between health systems, physician offices, outpatient centers such as store-based limited service clinics, urgent-care centers, and the patient.

Patients will likely play an increased role in creating actionable data, providing physicians with instant feedback as to their current condition and any other important data points relevant to their care. As systems improve and data capture outside of the traditional office visit becomes more reliable, patient-population health management will be an area of focus, opportunity, and ongoing change in the years ahead.

• Patient-centered care, of which a core component is patient experience, has been a focus for many practices over the past few years. The inclusion of patient experience in accountable-care models, the meaningful-use program, and patient-centered medical home models certainly escalated focus in this area. Increased efforts around transparency of patient-experience scores, which many organizations started to explore in 2015, will start to influence where patients decide to receive care next year.

In 2016, an increased focus on collaboration and communication between patients and physicians will result in more emphasis on ‘relationship-centered’ care to account for the back-and-forth communication and shared decision making that has been found to promote patient engagement and support enhanced patient outcomes.

What does this all mean for physician practices? Similar to 2015, 2016 will be a year where we continue to focus on transitions and enhancements to systems, processes, and continued innovation in terms of delivery and payment models. Practices will work to engage their patients in new ways and, as a result, will have an opportunity to innovate and try new things while maintaining the excellent care that they already provide. Implementation of a practical strategy, based on strategic assessment of the practice’s patient clinical needs, as well as needs related to access, communication, and shared decision making, is an important first step toward success in 2016.

Kerry Ann Hayon is director of the Mass. Medical Society’s (MMS) Physician Practice Resource Center. This article first appeared in Vital Signs, an MMS publication.