Ep. 48 Healthcare Consultants’ Recap of 2023: What Happened & What it Means for You

by | Dec 13, 2023

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How was your 2023? In healthcare, it seems that no matter how “prepared” you are on your first day back from the holiday break in January, plenty of surprises lie ahead to keep you on your toes.   

Join us for a “watercooler” conversation recapping the year from the perspective of healthcare consultants. You may find that what they share resonates with your own industry experience. See the healthcare milestones of the year 2023 through the eyes of optimization manager Nancy Nelson, executive consultant Michael Justice, and manager Sarah Saj – all of whom help medical organizations respond to major changes and challenges through all seasons. 

Topics covered in this episode (hosted by Rebekah Duke) are: 

  • Automation of many core processes through artificial intelligence (AI) 
  • Patient satisfaction measures to cope with increased competition 
  • Status report of how healthcare is faring during COVID recovery 
  • The need to shift back to monitoring care quality measures as the COVID recovery continues (and why many practices could incur penalties if they don’t get back on track) 
  • Private Equity turning its attention to operations performance 
  • Telehealth and why payers are throttling who can practice virtually 
  • Digital marketing as an increasingly popular solution to major challenges in the healthcare business 
  • Prioritizing of patient engagement and what tools will make it work 

And as a bonus, hear stories of notable challenges for our healthcare consultants, and what available solutions helped healthcare clients conquer obstacles. 

From all of us at Medical Advantage, we wish you a wonderful holiday season and a prosperous 2024. 

Thank you for listening to the Medical Advantage Podcast, where each we take time each episode to discuss the ideas and technologies changing healthcare, and the best practices your organization can take to stay productive and profitable. Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts to ensure you never miss an episode.

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Full Episode Transcript

Medical Advantage Podcast: Welcome to the Medical Advantage podcast, where you can hear healthcare professionals, expert consultants, and industry thought leaders discuss the exciting new ideas and technologies that are changing the business of healthcare. Tune in to each episode as we hear from some of the most innovative minds in medicine about the future of healthcare and how your organization can stay profitable, efficient, and on top of industry best practices. 

Rebekah Duke: Hello, and welcome back to the Medical Advantage Podcast. I am Rebekah Duke, your host for this episode. We’re doing something a little different this month, this last month of 2023. We’re taking a moment to look back on what’s been happening in healthcare this year. We’re joined by Nancy Nelson, Optimization Manager, Michael Justice, Executive Consultant, and Sarah Saj, Manager, all here at Medical Advantage. 

No one person can know everything happening in all corners and crevices of the health care world, but at least we can reflect on what we’ve seen from the perspective of health care consulting here at Medical Advantage, where we work throughout the months to enhance efficiency and optimize the delivery of ambulatory health care services by implementing proven solutions to common challenges. So let’s dive in. Let’s start with the most significant events of 2023. What stands out most to you in the world of health care? We’ll start with nancy.  

Nancy Nelson: Yeah, thanks, Rebekah. Well, I think the most significant event in 2023 in the world of health care is the advancement in AI technology. AI in healthcare has been an evolving and impactful area. The integration of artificial intelligence into healthcare systems has the potential to transform various aspects of our industry. Some of those areas include diagnostics and imaging. Algorithms have been developed to analyze images such as x rays, MRIs, and CT scans, assisting healthcare professionals in diagnosing conditions more accurately and quickly. A few other key ways AI has been applied to healthcare include drug discovery and development, remote monitoring, and virtual health assistance, which include AI powered chatbots, which are employed to provide information, answer queries, and assist with appointment scheduling.  

Sarah Saj: Yeah, I agree, Nancy. I think AI is going to definitely change the way many practices practice. Options in the EHR capacity will give practices the help it needs to become more productive as well. I think AI is going to really assist staff members with tedious, time-consuming tasks, and I really think it’s going to help alleviate the element of human error. An example of the help for practices is the ability to file documents automatically, which we know is very time-consuming for staff, you know, into patient’s charts effortlessly. 

Rebekah Duke: Yes, it’s exciting to see all the automation and innovation happening. Michael, what’s been nice and bright on your radar this year?  

Michael Justice: Well, I don’t know about nice and bright, but one of the, one of the big changes that, that we’ve seen is in the private equity space. Private equity is now a significant player in healthcare, especially in the ambulatory space and there has been a real pivot from acquiring patients. To actual operational efficiency and performance and profitability. That wasn’t always the case in the private equity back space, but it has been the hallmark of 2023. So we’ve worked with a lot of platforms on helping them with both integration efforts, as well as operational efficiency and performance, and that’s what we’re seeing in private equity, a bit of a shift but a positive shift, I think, for both patients and the providers.  

Rebekah Duke: Yes, I agree, Michael. That is a positive shift. So, Sarah, your turn. What has captured the most attention for you this year?  

Sarah Saj: So I think that patient satisfaction seemed to be a big focus this year in my perspective. It’s pretty competitive out there, you know, with social media and the ability to post very candid reviews. I see a lot of practices are pushing patient satisfaction forms via electronic means, which is great because they’re normally using their EHR. Asking patients to fill out those surveys in a variety of ways. Like I said, EHR, there’s still, I see quite a few practices have the box in their lobby it says, you know, fill this card out, how are we doing type of option. So it really seems like they’re wanting feedback from their patients to find out what the practices can do better.  

Rebekah Duke: Witnessing care become more patient centered is indeed encouraging. But Sarah, I’m curious as to why there’s more of an emphasis on patient satisfaction lately. Can you give us some clues?  

Sarah Saj: In my opinion, I think that practices want to ensure they’re keeping their current patient pool and they’re hoping to expand their business. With more and more healthcare provider options available, it’s easier for patients to provider shop these days. So it appears this year that, you know, practices are really taking the time internally to develop some more processes to ensure, the happiness of their patient population and future growth. 

Rebekah Duke: Thanks. That makes perfect sense, Sarah, as healthcare becomes more consumer driven. Practices need to respond accordingly. My next question is kind of a two-part question. So what’s something you thought would be a major focal point for 2023, but wasn’t, or on the other side, what was something you didn’t expect to emerge as a big player this year? Michael, what’s your answer to either or both of those questions?  

Michael Justice: I think the certainly AI. Has taken off not just in healthcare, but just in every industry and the opportunities there are pretty amazing from automation of clinical workflows to really aid a provider in providing care and documenting it appropriately to just everything from what mentioned earlier, filing to automating claims processes and all of that, so that 1 of the areas that really took off. Another area that’s really taken off is the whole area of digital marketing. Sarah had spoken a lot about patient satisfaction, reputation management. More and more patients, when they’re looking for a doctor, look at their satisfaction scores, ratings. Even if they’re referred by their primary care, they’re still looking at the ratings of those specialists. So that’s important. Areas that didn’t really take off, the only real one for me is the shift in private equity. Private equity is still there, still going great guns, but really it’s shift to operational excellence. 

Rebekah Duke: You covered a lot of territory there, Michael. Thank you. Sarah, does anything defy your expectations this year?  

Sarah Saj: Well, you know, not really define my expectations, but this year, in my opinion, from my projects, it was a quieter year than normal when it came to quality type questions, conversations, not that practices don’t seem to want to strive to have great care outcomes. It just seemed a little quieter this year, and I think a lot has to do with COVID, but expect that to ramp back up. 

Nancy Nelson: Yeah and I think, for the past five years, providers have been eligible to apply for those exceptions or adjustments to certain MIPS reporting requirements in response to the public health emergency with COVID. This won’t be an option in 2024. So it’s going to be vital for providers to get back on track with the program to eliminate that possibility of up to a nine percent payment adjustment. On their 2025 Medicare Part B reimbursement. So it’s going to be vital for them to really ramp back up with those quality programs. 

Sarah Saj: One other observation this year is telehealth has been a major change in the way that patients are treated medically since COVID. And lately, it seems like that some payers and networks are really limiting the number of mid levels, the ones that have the independent type practices to have those telehealth contracts. That’s been a shift this year as well.  

Rebekah Duke: What are reasons that payers would want to put a check on this, Sarah?  

Sarah Saj: Lately, it seems that payers networks are limiting the number of providers and mid-levels, the ones that have independent practices, to have telehealth only contracts.  

Nancy Nelson: Yeah, I agree with you, Sarah. Payers need to maintain adequate network of providers to ensure access to care for their members and in some areas, there are already enough NPs. But there also could be a credentialing backlog, which can result in long delays for NPs seeking credentialing and peers may periodically reassess their network needs based on changes in the healthcare landscape, patient demographics, or other factors, and this all can impact the decision to credential new providers as well. 

Rebekah Duke: Thank you, Sarah and Nancy. I expect we’ll be monitoring that in 2024 as well. Michael, I wanted to ask you for a quick check in with the impacts of COVID 19. I know the hardship exception was mentioned earlier, but what outlook could you offer and what could you add regarding the recovery? Some good news, hopefully. 

Michael Justice: It is good news. Throughout 2023, practices are beginning to thrive again. They’re focusing on patient quality, patient experience, and truly providing the value that all of us expect from practices and providers before this year, it was tamped down quite a bit because of COVID. I think practices are well along in their recovery. Some of them are recovered and are expanding. So that’s a great outlook there. 

Rebekah Duke: That is encouraging news, Michael. Thank you. So earlier, Sarah touched on patient satisfaction. I wanted to expand that discussion a bit into patient engagement. Nancy, what can you share with us?  

Nancy Nelson: Yeah, it’s critical. But improving patient engagement in healthcare is just crucial for several reasons, and it has a positive impact on both patients and the healthcare providers. Engaged patients have better health outcomes and are more than likely to report higher levels of satisfaction of their overall health care experience. Tools such as patient portals and automated reminders, those promote a focus on preventative care, which can help identify and address health issues before they become severe. 

Engaged patients tend to actively participate in decisions about treatment plans, leading to choices that align with their values and preferences. They also are more likely to adhere to medication regimens, which reduce the risk of complications and hospital admissions. So a strong patient engagement platform aligns with the broader goal of improving health outcomes, patient satisfaction, and just the overall quality of care. 

Michael Justice: Rebekah, just to add to what Nancy said, we, I’ve been involved in 23 on a couple EHR selection processes for large organizations. And one of the top items that comes up is a strong patient engagement platform, the ability to reach out in a number of different ways, email, portal, an app, text. It’s just become top of mind to everybody that a practice really needs a strong offering in that area. 

Rebekah Duke: Thank you, Nancy and thank you, Michael, for offering that additional context with EHRs. So last question, as you began 2023, you know, mentally preparing yourself for the challenges that were ahead. What was one major challenge? that you anticipated and how did it end up working out for the clients that you work with? Nancy, you want to go first?  

Nancy Nelson: Sure. I think one of the primary challenges faced in 2023 revolves around the shortage of staff. A predicament not exclusive to any particular industry, of course, but notably pronounced in health care, the elevated burnout rates post COVID exacerbated by the demands of the pandemic have underscored the direct impact of staffing shortages. On the provision of high-quality patient care, unfortunately, several strategies can be employed to mitigate these shortages, some for the short-term initiatives such as cross training, flexible scheduling, the incorporation of telehealth services, and the equitable redistribution of workloads can be implemented. 

Some long-term strategies, being proactive on the workforce planning to anticipate future needs is going to be critical. Investing in training and education and then optimizing workflows through technology solutions are pivotal measures to address this ongoing challenge that we’re going to have in the future. 

Sarah Saj: Yeah and I think that going back to AI technology and EHR platforms really will help alleviate that provider and staff burnout feeling and the AI enhancements were created to assist the everyday administrative tasks. That should help alleviate some of the burden that the staff feels on a daily basis as well. 

Rebekah Duke: I’m sure that many medical practices are feeling that these days. So Michael, it’s your turn, challenge you expected to deal with and what was done to meet that challenge.  

Michael Justice: I think one of the big challenges that we see with clients is if it’s over, we need to grow our practice. We need to get patients to come back. There are lots of alternatives. So everything in the realm of digital marketing, was pretty much out there at the beginning of 23. And as we get towards the end of the year, practices have come to learn that reputation management, making sure that those reviews that are on Google are good reviews, and there are a lot of them really matters. 

Making sure that your location is listed in Google. So when folks search for it, it comes up in Google Maps, comes up in Apple Maps and having a website that answers questions helps with your staffing burden as well, because folks go on the website, they can get the information they need and alleviate the need for a telephone call. 

So a lot around the digital marketing space, I know it was going to be a big need at the beginning of 23, just to grow the patient pool. But as we got towards the end. It even became more critical and just like it is in every other industry ,good reviews get more customers or patients.  

Rebekah Duke: Yes, that certainly is a driving force in the consumerism of healthcare that has been developing over the last several years. I agree. To Sarah, as we get ready to wrap up this episode, what’s your own point of view of 2023 challenges? What were you preparing to help clients confront in 2023 and how did it land?  

Sarah Saj: This year, a big focus was vendors were mandating software upgrades for multiple purposes and for many practices this is challenging due to the complexity of the changes of the upgrade staffing challenges and overall preparedness concerns. So, luckily the teams here at Medical Advantage were able to put together several training and optimization type services. To help practices test their new upgrade prior to roll out, train their staff members on new enhancements in the workflow needs and assist with their implementation remote or on site, whatever the client needed. So, it seemed to work out pretty well for our clients  

Rebekah Duke: This concludes our conversation. Thank you, Michael, Nancy and Sarah for your perspectives on health care in 2023. I hope it’s been enjoyable for you all to reflect together and compare notes. Thank you, audience, for joining us. Should you have any questions about anything we discussed today, we’d love to hear from you. 

Email us at info@medicaladvantage.com. Check out our website, www.medicaladvantage.com for a plethora of resources on how to enhance your operations and from all of us at Medical Advantage, we wish you all a prosperous 2024.  

Medical Advantage Podcast: Thanks for joining us this week on the Medical Advantage Podcast where we discuss the ideas and technologies changing healthcare and what they mean to your organization. For more information, visit us at medicaladvantage.com and make sure to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcast, so you never miss a show. 

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