By Zach Zettler, president, Updox
In 2020, healthcare providers quickly implemented new solutions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, providers evaluated their ongoing needs and optimized their patient engagement and operational processes.
As we enter a new year, the pandemic and its effects continue to influence the healthcare landscape. The consumerism of healthcare continues to drive the deployment of virtual care technology and paperless solutions, as providers focus on increasing patient engagement. At the same time, providers continue to experience challenges with revenue loss and burnout, placing strain on both budgets and staff alike.
As a result, some of the biggest priorities for healthcare providers in 2022 will revolve around how they can best engage patients without burdening staff. Healthcare technology will rise to meet the challenge, supporting providers with solutions to help them increase efficiency, streamline operations and continuously improve the patient experience while reducing time spent on administrative tasks. Read on for three healthcare technology trends we can expect to see in 2022.
Telehealth Will Grow As Hybrid Care Models Develop
By now, patients have grown so accustomed to telehealth that it has become an expectation for many. In fact, data shows that 41% of consumers expect their healthcare provider to offer telehealth appointment options as a result of the pandemic.
However, in-person appointments are still important and even a preferred option for many patients—in a recent poll by NPR, Harvard University, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, while 82% of respondent households that used telehealth reported being satisfied with it, 64% of households that have used telehealth said they would have preferred an in-person visit over telehealth in their last visit with their provider.
With patients prioritizing convenience and questions swirling about the omicron variant, patients will continue to want safe and simple options for healthcare. Telehealth offers convenient and safe communications between providers and patients and will play an increasingly large role in healthcare moving forward. But it can never fully supplant in-person healthcare—after all, a physician can’t give a full physical remotely.
The best-of-both-worlds solution is a hybrid care model where patients have access to in-person care and telehealth – both with their own trusted providers as well as urgent care or specialists, when needed.
Many providers are already testing out hybrid care models to see what mix works best for them. While in 2020 84% of practices were limiting in-office visits to reduce exposure, in 2021 providers reopened their doors while increasing the percentage of visits offered via telehealth by 10-25% to meet evolving patient expectations. And heading into 2022, providers are again re-examining what works best for them and their patients, with a large number planning to increase the virtual care options available while still focusing on in-person patient care where and when needed.
As these hybrid care models evolve, we will see more comprehensive telehealth strategies that meet patient, provider and payer needs. These include self-service telehealth – often as part of payer plans – where the member initiates a call with a provider they may not know, which works well for 7×24 urgent care or consults with specialists. Patients also want the ability to connect with the provider they know and trust, however, so providers that leverage a single platform that enables them to connect virtually with their patients and supplement with contracted telehealth providers as needed will benefit from greater efficiency, patient engagement and revenue opportunities.
We can expect to see many healthcare practices create and test different models of hybrid care as they learn what works best for their and their patients’ needs today and beyond 2022.
Health IT Will Address Patients’ Desire for More Personalized Care and Connection
The consumerism of healthcare has been underway for years— a survey from February 2020 found that 75% of U.S. consumers wished their healthcare experiences were more personalized. But the implementation of virtual care solutions in the pandemic’s wake rapidly accelerated the move towards more personalized care. Patients have never been more connected to their healthcare providers than they are now, and they will undoubtedly seek to interact more directly and build deeper relationships with their providers.
This desire to connect more deeply with providers, combined with the rise of telehealth usage, has naturally shifted patients’ expectations, with many demanding even more convenience as part of their healthcare experience. In a recent survey by Updox and Harris Poll, 55% of consumers cited convenient communications (such as secure text and patient messaging for appointment reminders) as important to having a good patient experience. Meanwhile, 51% cited user-friendly technology as important to a good patient experience.
In the upcoming year, we can anticipate patients demanding more convenience and intuitiveness as part of a more personalized patient experience. We can also expect to see more healthcare technology solutions addressing these needs.
Patient portals have begun to address these demands by offering several new solutions. Nobody likes calling an office and sitting on hold, and EHRs have worked to give patients a more convenient and secure way to access medical records, pay bills, and interact with physicians.
However, EHRs were optimized to record the clinical visit – not for communication. Sharing documents and messages with external parties is often an after-thought, and thus many independent provider practices are still using phone calls, voice mail, fax machines, paper forms and spreadsheets to manage their communications. Others have looked to a wide variety of software point solutions outside the EHR to help automate these communications, but each of them works differently, some are not HIPAA-compliant, and data is not shared between them, so these point solutions often create more friction.
Unified communications platforms offer providers and patients a greater level of personalized, user-friendly, and convenient communications options. By providing a variety of ways to communicate including secure messaging, phone communications, and video meetings, practices can directly communicate with patients via the method that is best suited to them. Moving forward, platforms will continue to expand their offerings to meet the evolving needs of patients and providers, and more practices will begin to leverage this approach.
Providers Will Go Digital
With 55% of frontline healthcare workers in a recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey saying they feel burned out and 49% saying they feel anxious, providers want convenience just as much as patients do. Financial pressures remain an issue for healthcare as well—a report by Statista showed that independent physicians could lose up to 158 billion U.S. dollars from 2020 to 2021.
With burnout and financial deficits still top-of-mind for many practices, increasing efficiency will be a priority for providers in 2022. Multiple innovations can help patients and administrative staff alike, and most (if not all) involve moving analog processes to the digital space.
Getting rid of paper and adopting electronic forms, for instance, can vastly reduce administrative stress. It takes about 18 minutes for an average person to find the information they need in a paper document, but it takes 2 seconds to find that information in an electronic document. Going paperless also negates the need to manually scan paper forms to convert them to electronic forms, and it reduces paperwork costs. At the same time, patients are demanding electronic forms, too—42% of consumers in a recent survey said they expected their healthcare providers to use electronic forms or online paperwork options.
Practices are beginning to go even further into the digital space by opening a digital front door to move all patient intake processes, communications processes and experiences at each point in the patient’s journey to the digital space. A digital front door can relieve administrative headaches by converting analog processes into more convenient digital processes, and it can also improve patient engagement.
Between hybrid care models, personalized healthcare services and streamlined administrative tasks, 2022 is poised to be an exciting year of massive innovation in the healthcare industry. As new solutions are released and adopted, technology will continue to evolve and support providers as they navigate challenges in the ever-changing healthcare landscape.