As the healthcare industry looks to cut costs and improve care in 2017, executives say they're pursuing new strategies in 2017 to boost access to outpatient care, according to a new survey.
The emergence of new technology coupled with pressure to lower healthcare costs and better integrate care have driven health systems to treat patients via cheaper outpatient settings. Healthcare organizations have since looked for new ways to streamline delivery, minimize expenses and boost market share across the outpatient landscape.
There has been a proliferation of new entry points via retail clinics, urgent care centers and virtual access as the demand for consumer-focused care grows, said Ben Umansky, managing director of Advisory Board, which published its Annual Health Care CEO Survey on Thursday.
“There is opportunity for outpatient clinics to grow in new ways but they also pose a threat,” he said. “Those who occupy that space are nimbler, less expensive, easily accessible and offer more exposure. Healthcare organizations realize they need to bolster that arena.”
Health clinics and outpatient services are projected to be two of the fastest-growing sectors, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. BLS estimates they will add more than 1.7 million jobs combined between 2012 and 2022.
The 183 C-level executives surveyed in Advisory Board's December poll said their 2017 priorities beyond improving access to outpatient care include finding innovative ways to reduce expenses, increasing market share in outpatient procedures and minimizing clinical variation.
As the number of high-deductible plans increases, more people are shopping around to find a good deal. That has led to health systems looking to bolster their market share of outpatient services and partner with outpatient providers, Umansky said.
“If healthcare organizations are not competitive in outpatient services, there is danger ahead,” he said.
It's one thing to invest in outpatient services, but integrating them into the overall continuum of care will be key, according to Umansky.
Facilitating open channels of communication between physicians and health systems will also be crucial, said Dr. Lisa Bielamowicz, Advisory Board's chief medical officer and senior vice president of research.
“While demand for physician employment is at a near-record high, hospitals should use this moment to refocus their physician strategies on building a network centered on delivering accessible, lower cost and reliable healthcare,” she said in a news release.
Providing more cost-effective care and reducing expenses goes hand-in-hand with minimizing unnecessary variation, which topped the Advisory Board's survey last year. The next wave of cost reduction will come from building physician relationships, embedding electronic health records into the workflow and integrating IT, Umansky said.
Despite the changes in healthcare regulation and policy, reducing costs, delivering value and standardizing care will prepare organizations for any scenario, he said. The CMS recently implemented a site-neutral provision that shifted how Medicare will pay for services delivered at hospitals' off-campus facilities. Meanwhile, many health systems and insurers await the administration's next move on its push to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. But all this spells opportunity, Umansky said.
“Let's take this lull in some of the regulatory change and get our house in order – prepare for what the market is demanding,” he said.