A new year, a new president – 2017 will usher in a lot of changes, including in health care. The title of consulting firm PWC’s annual trend report may best capture the tone: “Top health industry issues of 2017: A year of uncertainty and opportunity.”

While President-elect Trump has made repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act a top priority, its fate remains unclear, reports PWC. “Yet, despite the potential policy changes in Washington, the painstaking and challenging work of shifting to value-based care will continue.”

This will also be the year that solutions emerge for turning big data into actionable information, mobile health will continue its growth, and cybersecurity will become ever more important. Here’s a look at what doctors can expect in the coming year.

Value-based payment picks up speed.

The shift toward insurers reimbursing doctors for value rather than volume has been slow. “Up until this point, new programs and payment models have largely involved upside risk for health care providers. But this will begin to change in 2017 as the training wheels for these risk-based arrangements are eased off,” the PWC report said.

Next year is the first performance year for the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA), and health care providers will be asked to participate in one of two payment tracks, both of which emphasize downside risk, reports HealthcareIT News.  

For more information, see MACRA: What Is It, and Will It Help or Hurt Your Practice?

According to the PWC report, providing higher quality, lower cost care will require an analytics-driven approach to deliver personalized medicine, or a customized care plan tailored to each patient’s specific needs. “Achieving this requires a robust infrastructure of technology and clinical skills, which will take time to build and operationalize,” the report said. “Providers should consider partnerships and alliances to acquire both.”

Solutions will emerge for dealing with all that data.

For a while now, health care has been collecting massive amounts of data, but to what end? HealthcareIT News assures, “Solutions will also be available to help doctors drowning in data. These can minimize their administrative burdens, allowing them to spend more time caring for patients.”

Other industry experts agree: “Analytics remains in the spotlight thanks to its potential to deliver significant improvements in all aspects of a practice’s operations by converting big data into actionable insights. Practices can expect to see more informatics and analytics solutions hit the market in 2017,” predicts the Diagnostic Imaging blog.

This is because the shift to value-based care includes reducing unnecessary costs. And that requires a whole new level of data sharing and collaboration between payers, providers, and consumers, according to CareCloud, a provider of cloud-based practice management software.

The company told Becker’s Hospital Review, “Open platforms that facilitate information flow in a secure, compliant way are essential to success in a value-based system of care. Entrepreneurial-minded medical practice leaders are looking at intelligent apps to turn data into user-friendly tools to support care coordination and decision-making.”

Mobile health will continue its growth, despite snags.

Speaking of user-friendly apps and tools, the interest in mobile health (mHealth) shows no signs of waning. The Physicians Practice blog cites results of a PWC survey that found the number of consumers who used at least one medical, health care, or fitness app doubled in 2015 to 32 percent; and 81 percent of clinicians say mobile access to medical information helps coordinate patient care.

“It will not be surprising if all of these figures [have increased] in 2016,” the article stated. “Practices will want to examine how they can use mHealth to boost patient engagement and satisfaction to improve care delivery and help achieve a competitive edge over slower adopting providers.”

There is evidence that wearables are hitting a rough patch, however, digital health experts claim this is also a “what to do with all that data” problem. “The thing that will bring wider, mainstream adoption to wearables is bridging the gap between collecting data and using it productively,” reports MobiHealthNews. Experts predict that once the health care industry solves “this problem of a lack of meaning for the data, wearables will have a corresponding comeback.”

Security concerns will increase.

Of course, as we’ve discussed, mHealth apps and increased mobile use raise new concerns about the security of patients’ health information. Data breaches in health care are increasing, as cyber criminals target providers because of the high value of health records on the black market.

In October, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights (OCR) released new guidance on HIPAA and cloud computing, reports the Physicians Practice blog. “These and other recent developments indicate security and compliance are under close scrutiny. Practices should take compliance seriously.”

There is no reason to believe cybercriminals will stop targeting providers anytime soon. To educate yourself and protect your practice, see our recent post on cybersecurity and health care.

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