A New Age in Medicine

Every time a system or people go through a significant event lasting changes are produced.  After 9/11, the ways we travel and handle security were forever changed.  After this pandemic is over, I am sure there are going to be lasting changes to the way we prepare for a crisis as well as how we deliver care.


The COVID-19 crisis allowed for a massive proof-of-concept trial for telehealth.  All over the country physician groups in almost every specialty went from zero to sixty for telehealth in a matter of days.  We have now proven that some portion of care can be delivered remotely during this time of crisis.  After the pandemic is over, it is my belief that most successful practices will embrace telehealth going forward – but for different reasons.  I also believe these forward-thinking practices will embrace other changes to how they provide care.  How they view their customers, as they look to a very different future than the one they expected just a few months ago, will also change.


After this crisis is over, medical practices will be impacted by new factors that are a direct result of dealing with the corona virus.  Adding to their new reality, though, will be issues they’ve been dealing with for some time, now heightened in light of recent events.


To illustrate, let’s look forward 6 to 12 months.  Most economists believe that the economic impacts of this crisis will not be resolved as quickly as they arose.  Most believe that we will be dealing with double-digit unemployment through at least the end of this year.  In addition, the crisis and the stimulus bills that came with it will add more than $3 trillion to the national debt.  Employers will be trying to recover from the financial damage the very necessary quarantine and closures caused.  We’ll have an election that will put significant pressure on both political parties regardless of which way it goes, and health care as our largest federal expenditure.  Put those together and the need to reduce health care expenditures and reform our system of care delivery and financing will never be stronger.  Medical practices are going to find themselves in an environment where reimbursement rates are likely to be under significant scrutiny.  They’ll be under pressure to attract the “right” patients to make their practices successful.  The new element in all of this will be the redefining of “the right patient”.  As we move forward, the right patients are more likely to be the millennial and Gen Z consumers.  As millennials and Gen Zs get older they’re becoming an increasingly large portion of the health care consumer market.  This is the type of patient practices will need to attract, and they’re very different consumers than practices have dealt with in the past.


Millennials and Gen Z are often referred to as “digital natives”.  They’ve grown up in a digital world and don’t know anything else.  These digital natives now account for over 160 million people in this country, add their children and the number soars higher.  These same individuals are quickly taking over the health care decision making for their elder parents, which broadens their reach into health care delivery even further.  The simple fact is these digital natives are making health care choices for well in excess of 60% of the US population.  This is the group of potential patients practices need to attract in order to be successful in the future.  Unfortunately, many physicians don’t understand the type of consumerism this group exhibits, and many practices are not set up to meet the needs of these digital natives.  Success in the future will largely be dictated by a practice’s ability to adapt to these new consumers and deliver the type of care they want in the manner they expect.


Millennials and Gen Z have grown up in a digital environment.  They are used to and demand the products and services they consume be available in a digital world right on their smart phones.  They also demand greater access to information and data than any other consumer before them.  They have shown in many other industries that those companies that embrace their needs will be successful and those that don’t will perish.  Case in point: How many of you have Netflix but can’t remember the last time you saw a Blockbuster?  How many of you can remember the Sears Christmas catalog but shop on Amazon on a regular basis?   These are just two examples of the impact a changing consumer base can have on an industry.


When it comes to health care, the physician practice of the future is going to have to understand this new kind of patient and develop ways to meet their needs.  Let’s look at the old school approach to a patient visit and compare it to the demands of the new consumer.


Currently, patients call the physician office to request an appointment.  Many times, they have to wait on hold or go through multiple phone prompts.  They eventually schedule their appointment.  When the patient shows up at least 15 minutes prior to their appointment they have to fill out more forms (hopefully on some kind of tablet).  After filling out the forms they are told to wait to be called back.  When they finally get to the exam room a nurse comes in and asks more questions to populate the EMR.  Once again, they are asked to wait for the doctor.  The doctor comes in and conducts the visit.  After the doctor is done the patient is sent to “check out” where they once again wait to pay their co-pay and get any follow up instructions.  When the patient finally leaves the practice, they are frustrated with all the wasted time and duplication of effort.  When they get home, they might have questions or be waiting for test results.  They have no good way to get those questions answered or get their test results without playing a frustrating game of phone tag.   This process is not going to work for this new consumer, and they are going to demand a different reality.  Not only that, but they are so connected digitally that they are going to make their positive and negative feelings known.


In the new world the consumer is going to demand a significant increase in digital connectivity.  They are going to demand that information be input only once and then transfer to any system that requires it.  They are going to demand that they be able to input information themselves from a smart device as well as demand access to their chart and results at all times. They are going to want the ability to schedule appointments without a phone call and the ability to eliminate all waiting and forms at the time of their visit.  The new digital consumer is going to want telehealth visits and other forms of communication about their health care.  Finally, this consumer is going to demand the ability to rate their experience in real time much like they do their Uber drive as well as have access to the ratings of others to help them make their care decisions.


It’s a whole new world out there.  The practices that adapt and adjust to this new environment are going to be successful.  Those that don’t may not be around much longer.


A wise man once said; “Change isn’t required.  But then again, survival isn’t guaranteed either.”


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