It’s an exciting time for the healthcare industry. Regulatory changes, technological advancements, and workforce shortages are coming together to create an environment that is ripe for change.
New healthcare settings are becoming established throughout the nation and patients are receiving treatment from a growing number of nonphysician healthcare professionals. In the near future, the typical visit to the doctor’s office, will be anything but typical. Here are just some of the changes that are coming in the healthcare space.
Nurse practitioners: The new primary care providers
The Affordable Care Act extended healthcare coverage to millions of Americans, providing them the ability to access preventive medicine from primary care providers. The problem is there is a critical shortage of primary care physicians, particularly in rural and medically underserved areas.
Enter nurse practitioners. Nurse practitioners have a history of treating medically underserved populations, and studies have shown they provide care that is equal to care provider by physicians. Many nurse practitioners have established nurse-led clinics in underserved communities to serve patients in those areas.
However, the majority of states require nurse practitioners have a collaborative agreement with physicians in order to practice. That means NPs cannot establish their own practices or open nurse-led clinics in those states. This limits their ability to help relieve the effects of the shortage.
But the tide is turning. Nurse practitioners have full practice authority in 19 states including the District of Columbia, and several other states have written legislation to expand NP scope of practice. Just this year, Connecticut and Minnesota granted NPs full practice authority.
Urgent care clinics: The new emergency option
Many newly insured patients who cannot get a primary care appointment often rely on the emergency room as their primary access entrance into the healthcare system. However, when patients use the ER for non-emergent conditions, it further adds ER overcrowding, which is a costly and deadly problem.
Urgent care clinics have begun popping up all over the country to meet the needs of this population. According to the American Academy of Urgent Care Medicine, there are approximately 9,300 walk-in, stand-alone urgent care centers in the United States, with nearly 100 new clinics opening each year.
Urgent care centers are a much quicker and convenient option for patients who need immediate care but don’t require the full breadth of emergency resources. According to the 2012 Urgent Care Benchmarking Report, 69% of urgent care patients wait less than 20 minutes to see a provider and less than 1% waited longer than 60 minutes.
Medical malls: The new hospital
Medical malls offer a one stop shop for outpatient healthcare services, housing a collection of outpatient clinics, doctor’s offices, and urgent care centers all under one roof.
Many healthcare organizations have embraced the model. Declining inpatient reimbursement and quality improvement programs have forced healthcare organizations to increase investment in outpatient services. Healthcare organizations often own and operate medical malls, which are home to many of their outpatient departments as well as external practices and businesses that pay rent. These locations allow healthcare organizations the ability to treat outpatient patients in more comfortable accommodations, while maintaining their main campus to treat the sickest patients.
Developers have begun investing in medical malls as well, constructing new state-of-the-art buildings specifically to house medical malls and managing them much like a shopping center. Independent practices and companies pay rent for their unit. Some developers have also converted closed hospitals into new medical malls.
Telemedicine: The new house call
Nearly 900,000 American households used video conferencing technology to conduct a virtual consultation with a healthcare professional, in 2013. According to Parks Associates, a market research company that specializes in emerging consumer technology products and services, that number will jump to 22.6 million in 2018.
Telemedicine consultations are an attractive option for patients and providers. For patients, they can access healthcare providers from the convenience of their own home without having to spend time traveling to the doctor’s office and waiting to be seen. If a patient cannot get an appointment with a doctor in their area, they can connect with a provider many miles away.
For providers who treat patients in multiple locations or make house calls, connecting with patients via video conferencing saves time and increases productivity.
Barriers to telemedicine growth include reimbursement, licensing, and access to broadband internet, but strides are being taken to overcome all three. The Federal Communications Commission has established a National Broadband Plan which aims to make affordable broadband internet available to every American. Lawmakers have also proposed legislation that would relax licensing requirements and increase reimbursement for telemedicine services.