7 Major Challenges Facing the Healthcare Industry in 2021

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The healthcare industry is facing rapid changes. Here’s what you need to know to stay ahead in 2021 and beyond.

The healthcare industry is facing many changes that pose new challenges to medical organizations big and small. In particular, the fast-evolving government regulations, technological innovations, and patient expectations create a new environment in which running a medical practice isn’t just about treating patients anymore.

Looking into 2021 and beyond, here are six major challenges faced by the healthcare industry and how to stay ahead:

1. Cybersecurity

Although ransomware, data breaches, and other cybersecurity concerns are nothing new to the healthcare industry, the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic revealed just how vulnerable sensitive patient health information really is.

The recent growth of digital health initiatives- like telehealth doctor visits — is a major contributor to the severe increase in breached patient records. As more healthcare functions continue to move online over the next year, it’s extremely important to ensure these processes are protected from outside threats.

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This trend will continue as many healthcare providers are still slow in responding to threats while the decentralized systems make them more vulnerable to attacks.

When a breach occurs, not only are you compromising confidential patient information, but you also face a hefty penalty if you’re found to have violated the many compliant standards regulating the industry.

Many medical providers are investing in proper safeguards to better protect sensitive patient data. Simple steps like implementing multi-factor authentication and strong firewalls help reduce the success of hackers.

Practices are also requiring their third-party patient engagement vendors to possess the HITRUST Certification, which combines extensive safeguards from HIPPA, COBIT, HITECH, PCI, and more. Vendors holding this certification are significantly less susceptible to facing ransomware attacks or data breaches.

2. Telehealth

With the Covid-19 pandemic encouraging minimal in-person human interaction, consumer adoption of telehealth grew from 11% during 2019 to 46% in 2020. While the future implications of covid-19 are still uncertain, it seems that telehealth adoption will continue to grow. In fact, 76% of consumers say they are highly or moderately likely to use telehealth futures in the near future.

However, the telehealth sector still faces major issues like a potential digital health bubble and an uncertain regulatory future.

“There is going to be this gap, and there are some gaps where telehealth can’t replace the one-on-one, face-to-face interaction. That just really stands out when it comes to senior care, patients with Alzheimer’s and dementia. There’s no substitute.”

-Angela Williams, CEO of disability nonprofit Easterseals

3. Invoicing and Payment Processing

Medical practices are citing patient collections as their top revenue cycle management struggle as patients are becoming responsible for a larger portion of their medical bills. In order to help encourage patients to submit payments in a timely manner, providers must adhere to patient payment preferences.

To meet patient expectations and improve the user experience, ensure billing statements are patient-friendly. You should offer paperless statements and a variety of payment options (e.g., eCheck, credit card, etc.) via an online patient portal and utilize the latest payment technologies, such as mobile and text-to-pay. New features like text or email reminders help effectively communicate with patients and encourage them to pay their financial obligations.

However, it’s often challenging and costly for medical practices to set up such invoicing and payment processing systems in-house. Not only must they negotiate terms with each payment processor and build the infrastructure (e.g., patient portal, secure payment processing) but they also must absorb the ongoing administrative cost of maintaining such technologies.

Additionally, healthcare providers are required to follow strict guidelines to protect patient information. You need to ensure that your payment portal and processing system are fully compliant, or you risk incurring a hefty penalty.

4. Price Transparency

Besides difficulty submitting payments due to lack of options, another leading reason for consumers failing to pay their financial responsibility is confusion due to a lack of price transparency. Because of this, healthcare systems are now opting to make their service prices accessible. Doing so reduces patient confusion and surprise billing issues.

Many patients are now researching service pricing for various health systems before making a decision as to which practice they book an appointment with. Any system that does not make their pricing public may be dropped from consideration altogether.

Price transparency became a significant healthcare buzzword during 2019, and will likely be an important challenge faced by most American healthcare systems in the coming year.

5. Patient Experience

The medical insurance landscape has experienced some significant changes in recent years. As more patients are responsible for a larger portion of their healthcare bill, they naturally demand better services from their providers.

Healthcare organizations will face tougher competition in attracting and retaining patients who demand an experience that matches the level of customer service they expect from other consumer brands.

They demand a streamlined patient experience so they can “self-service” to resolve most questions, issues, or concerns (e.g., downloading an immunization record, booking an appointment, paying their bills, or checking their account/insurance status) whenever, wherever, and however is most convenient for them.

For healthcare organizations offering a variety of services in different locations, it’s also important for every employee to have access to the most up-to-date patient information from one centralized location. Not only will it deliver a better patient experience (who wants to tell their story from the beginning every single time?) but also help avoid fatal mishaps such as drug interactions.

To create an outstanding and streamlined user experience, create a patient portal that keeps all the patient interactions in one place. It also allows all employees to access each patient’s history — which is updated in real-time — from one centralized record to avoid costly mistakes.

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6. Effective Payment Model

In order to reduce cost and increase service quality, there’s now a trend toward determining financial incentives based on patient outcomes rather than service quantity.

Payers and patients are demanding new payment models — such as bundled payments, disbursement to patient-oriented care providers, global payments, and shared savings — that encourage care providers to coordinate services and promote preventive care.

However, there are many challenges in implementing these new models and monitoring the processes within the existing systems. For example, new metrics need to be defined to measure performance and ROI.

Healthcare providers should pay close attention to the development of this trend. Look to early adopters and large organizations (e.g., Medicaid) who are testing and fine-tuning these new payment models to understand how best to reduce cost and improve patient outcomes while staying profitable.

7. Big Data

Although more and more healthcare data is being generated, it’s scattered across multiple parties and systems including payers, providers, and patients. There’s no single “source of truth” that providers can use to optimize the patient experience.

For instance, when patients switch insurance plans or healthcare providers, most medical practices rely on patients’ self-reporting to reconstruct their records. As a result, not all the information is transferred properly and it’s very challenging to harness the power of data and generate accurate insights.

In addition, healthcare data comes from many sources in a variety of formats. Currently, there’s no single system or technology infrastructure to retrieve, store, and analyze data from various sources at scale.

For healthcare organizations to successfully harness the power of big data, leadership needs to embrace data-driven decision-making. The use of analytics should be woven into the organization culture to develop a trust in data so the insights can be used to support decision-making at the executive level.

In order to fully leverage all the patient data from a variety of sources, healthcare organizations need to implement non-relational information technology so data from various sources can be utilized even if the datasets come in different formats.

Final Thoughts

To lower your administrative cost, minimize costly errors, and improve patient experience, you can use a HITRUST-certified third-party provider to handle patient statement design, invoicing, and payment processing.

MailMyStatements has you covered. We’ll handle everything you need to improve your billing, invoicing, and payment processing so you can deliver the best-in-class patient experience. In addition, we’re HITRUST-certified, which means you can rest assured that you’re staying compliant with the latest industry guidelines at all times while protecting sensitive patient information. Get in touch to see how we can help.

Hugh Sullivan is the CEO of MailMyStatements, an industry-leading healthcare billing, and payments company. He has over 25 years of experience as a seasoned healthcare executive, was the co-founder of ENS Health — a highly successful national healthcare electronic data interchange company, and has served in various leadership roles within Optum, a UnitedHealth Group company. Considered as an industry thought leader, Hugh is an expert in using health IT to improve healthcare information exchange, which can enhance the quality of care, improve efficiency, and reduce costs.

#PatientStatements

You can follow Hugh on Twitter @hughdsullivan

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MailMyStatements is a technology-driven statement, payment, and collection vendor that specializes in simplifying the client billing process. #patientstatements

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