Six Tech Trends That Will Influence Physician Practices in 2021

By Roland Therriault, President and Executive Vice President of Sales, InSync Healthcare Solutions
Twitter: @inSynchcs

Every year presents new challenges to healthcare leaders, but 2020 threw a curveball like few others: Covid-19. Over the last 10 months, physician practices and their partners have had to rethink healthcare clinical and billing practices and embrace new technology even when they weren’t ready for it.

While many were happy to show 2020 the door, 2021 will deliver new patient care challenges as value-based care continues to evolve. It will also introduce opportunities to improve and streamline operations thanks to advances in technology, including EHRs, security, and clinical applications like voice recognition software. As multiple dynamics converge, the following key trends are expected to set the tone for physician practices over the next 12 months.

1. Interoperability levels up with FHIR.
Sharing and exchange data is getting easier, but the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) wants to ensure every provider is on the same page.

In April 2021, CMS’ Interoperability and Patient Access final rule and the 21st Century Cures Act’s interoperability and information-blocking rule call for providers to ensure their EHR conforms to HL7 Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) standard. Is your EHR certified to align with the most updated clinical data set? Now is the time to check.

2. Automation and ambient technologies will empower EHRs.
Widespread adoption of EHRs has reduced clinical documentation time by at least 8 percent, according to one 2018 study. But with the requirements of quality incentive programs offsetting some of these gains, physician practices will need more than a basic certified EHR to maintain or improve productivity.

There is still no magical elixir that will eliminate administrative burdens completely, but newer technologies – such as automation, and ambient voice recognition applications — are making it easier to document care and navigate clinical notes. Advances in automation and machine learning can also help on the back end, so billing and revenue cycle management staff can process payments more efficiently.

Amid razor-thin operational margins, today’s providers must consider how to capitalize on technological advancements such as these to streamline processes and elevate patient care.

3. Predictive Analytics will support clinical care.
Providers want more insight into whether their clinical efforts will bear fruit. In 2021, expect to see a focus on improving quality metrics tied to the Healthcare Effectiveness Data and Information Set (HEDIS) and other programs. By leveraging predictive analytics software, a practice can see how well its efforts compare to its peers in everything from preventive screenings to immunizations, and flag potential problems before they escalate.

4. Integrated care will soar.
It’s been a few years since CMS’ Psychiatric Collaborative Care Model (CoCM) took hold, setting the tone for primary-care physicians and behavioral health providers to share information on a regular basis.

This holistic approach to patient care is now normalized, and that’s a good thing, considering the current pandemic has exacerbated the mental health and opioid crisis beyond 2019 projections. In March 2020, the passage of the CARES Act eliminated penalties tied to CFR 42 Part 2, which encouraged more information sharing among providers. Consequently, practices can expect that their mental health peers are eager to work with them, and share information, for the common good. Forward-looking providers will embrace this trend and deploy infrastructures that support seamless data exchange.

5. Telehealth will become more mainstream.
Telehealth was the biggest healthcare trend of 2020, with virtual visits accounting for about 20% of all medical visits in the United States. Evolving payment parity legislation at the state and federal level is also fueling its growth. But the “newness’ factor has worn off a bit, as more practices are seeking ways to offer a hybrid care model encompassing virtual and in-person care.

What this means: Practices that don’t offer telehealth could stick out like a sore thumb. When considering long-term telehealth strategies, practices should focus on the solutions that offer a higher and faster return on investment: Look at which platforms most effectively support virtual care and can work with an existing EHR.

6. Behavioral health will seek out specialized EHRs.
It wasn’t so long ago that having an EHR was an anomaly for mental health providers. As the onus on integrated care increases, so does need to exchange and access data at a moment’s notice. But the templates and applications within traditional EHRs may not be specific enough to support the clinical workflows within behavioral health practices.

In 2021, BH providers will increasingly narrow their search to systems that are specialized and configurable to their practice needs, including behavioral telehealth, which shows no sign of slowing down.

As in recent years, technology remains a central theme to evolving patient care and operational trends. Practices that invest smartly in advances are poised for a sustaining 2021 and solid positioning for the future.