Healthcare News and Trends
Top 10 Physician Trends in 2021
January 12, 2021
By Debra Wood, contributor
While no one has a crystal ball, experts believe some of the
changes forced on the healthcare industry during the COVID-19 pandemic, such as
telemedicine visits, are bound to remain strong in 2021.
“What 2020 has shown us is that innovation and use of technology
is key to performance,” said Amel Hammad, managing director and leader of the
Healthcare Industry Practice at Conway MacKenzie, part of Riveron, a national
advisory firm based in Chicago.
“In 2021, physicians need to think about how to continue to
provide care to patients in innovative ways,” she continued. “Once a vaccine is
available to all, things will not go back to normal. We will not just pick up
where we left off. Physicians will need to invest in technologies that allow
them to provide the same type of visit they would provide in office, virtually.”
What might the new year have in store for physicians?
expected to affect the practice of medicine in 2021
1. Telemedicine becomes a norm
Although virtual visits were expected to increase in 2020,
they took off like a rocket.
“Because of the public health emergency of COVID-19, a lot
of healthcare providers had to scramble to care for their patients,” said Angie
Howard, director of EHR optimization and provider experience at Medical
Advantage, an advisory firm for physician practices, which is part of the TDC Group based in Napa, California. “Telehealth
was one way to see their patients and not put their patients at risk,
especially those that are chronically ill.”
Hammad added, “Once, telehealth services were frowned upon
but now have proven to be an efficient way to provide one-on-one care to
patients to minimize the spread of a virus.”
Patients and physicians both ended up appreciating the
convenience of televisits. Clinicians can see more patients through telehealth.
And some electronic medical record systems allow the televisit to be recorded
and become part of the patients’ records, and it is HIPAA compliant.
“Telehealth is the medicine of the future,” Howard predicted.
Reimbursement for virtual visits have helped physicians. The
Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and many commercial insurers
reimbursed physicians for evaluation and management visits in 2020. However, that
Medicare coverage is coming to an end.
“The questions that need to be answered are, when is it
necessary for an in-person visit?” Hammond said. “What tools do we need to be
able to better leverage technology and telehealth services? What types of
professionals do I need in the office setting to help meet the needs of the
people we serve? What type of communication strategies do we need to take to
inform the public that though during a pandemic, seeing the doctor may not be
necessary, but why is it important now?
“Being proactive around answering these questions is
critical to be prepared for providing physician service after COVID-19,” she continued.
“Given the vaccine is starting to become available, the ‘end’ of this will be
near and waiting until then will put you behind the curve as most physician
groups affiliated with larger health systems have already implemented tactical
plans around these strategic considerations.”
2. Patient resistance to in-person care
Patients will likely continue to avoid in-person visits,
fearful of exposure to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Most people like
virtual visits. But as Hammond said, not everything can be done remotely, for
instance, intra-articular injections of corticosteroids.
Jon Morris, MD, vice president, chief medical information
officer and general manager of US Healthcare Solutions with IQVIA in Devon,
Pennsylvania, reported in December fewer prescriptions and fewer new to-brand prescriptions
are being written, year over year. During a webinar, he attributed the decrease
to “fewer patients coming into the healthcare system” and “reduced demand in
Eighty-six percent of physicians responding to The
2020 Survey of America’s Physicians COVID-19 Impact Edition, which was conducted
by Merritt Hawkins on behalf of The Physicians Foundation, expressed concerns
that in 2021 the healthcare system will be dealing with patients whose
conditions were made worse by treatment delays during the pandemic.
3. Care continues to move to the home
The Council of Accountable Physician Practices (CAPP) in
Washington, DC, anticipates more care moving to patients’ home, away from
brick-and-mortar facilities, and not solely telemedicine, because “home
treatment for many patients can be safer, more convenient, less expensive, and
more desirable.” Specifically, CAPP expects growth of hospital-at-home programs.
Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston launched a
hospital-at-home initiative in 2016, providing hospital-level care to acutely
ill patients in their homes. It has led to fewer unintended hospital events,
reduced cost and patients being more physically active.
4. Remote patient monitoring and wearables
Caring for people at home combined with technology has led more
patients monitoring their own heart rhythms, weight, blood pressure and other
metrics. Often that information is electronically transmitted to their
physician. Now, a billing code exists for the physician or nurse care manager
to review that data and take action to prevent an emergency department visit or
hospitalization, Howard said.
“It will be easy for patients to do this going forward,” she
5. Technology for patient education
In addition to live video visits, asynchronous virtual care also is on the rise.
For instance, Mytonomy in Bethesda, Maryland, offers
physicians a video education library, which they can ask patients to watch at
home at their own pace about pre-op and post-op care, self-care for chronic
conditions and healthy living.
“Asynchronous virtual care benefits the patient by giving
them more control over their healthcare and a significantly more convenient
option, accessible to them on any device, at any time,” said Anjali Kataria,
founder and CEO of Mytonomy. Studies of the care model indicate “improvement in
patient activation and self-efficacy, which is correlated with better outcomes
and reduced cost of care by involving the patient more directly in the care of
their own health as an active learner in what to do to get healthier.”
Kataria added the “power of this consumer-based
learning/entertainment model is being unleashed in asynchronous virtual care,
making it a powerful healthcare model.”
6. Increased interest in becoming a physician
The number of people wanting to become physicians has
increased since the pandemic and may help to relieve the physician shortage. The
Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) estimates the United States will
be short about 139,000 physicians by 2033.
Enrollment in medical schools was up 1.7 percent in the 2020
academic year, but the number of students applying for the 2021 school year was
up 18 percent, according to AAMC.
7. Transition to paying for value
CAPP has predicted a continued movement toward value-based
care, rather than volume. The organization stated that “Medical groups and health
systems that provided care in value-based payment models had a more stable
financial base, allowing them to weather the financial impact of the pandemic
and meet their patients’ needs in this crisis.”
Better models of care and payment will be needed to keep
primary care practices in business, CAPP reported.
8. Remedies for healthcare disparities
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought health disparities to
“Policymakers, healthcare providers and purchasers must
collaborate to fundamentally address health disparities, which have once again
been highlighted by the pandemic,” according to CAPP.
Significant amounts of money is being spent to increase the
number of minority physicians and to determine causes of disparities and bring
about health equity.
9. Cash and Medicaid payments to increase
In 2021, Michael Kleinrock, senior director at IQVIA,
predicted that unemployment related to COVID-19, which has caused people to
lose their health insurance, will force people to turn to cash, discount cards
or Medicaid. Peak Medicaid enrollment lags peak unemployment, often related to
waiting periods for eligibility in some states.
Eighty-nine percent of physicians responding to The Physicians
Foundation survey indicted ensuring access to high-quality, cost-effective care
is an important future policy step.
10. More physician leaders
CAPP and 84 percent of physicians responding to The
Physicians Foundation survey agree that more physicians will accept leadership
roles to ensure strong, high-performing healthcare systems provide high-quality,
cost-effective care to everyone.
The past year brought many unexpected challenges to physicians
and other healthcare providers. While healthcare will likely never go back to
pre-pandemic status, 2021 offers opportunities for medicine to evolve and
change for the better.
Merritt Hawkins is the nation’s leading physician placement firm, with opportunities for
physicians and advanced practitioners throughout the U.S.
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