Physicians Must Adapt, Evolve in 2010

Elyas Bakhtiari, for HealthLeaders Media , December 31, 2009

2. Embrace technology. I'm not just talking about electronic health records, although 2010 will be a busy year for practices that want to be eligible for the first HITECH funds in 2011. But as I hinted at in the Dec. 17 issue, 2009 may have marked the beginning of a dramatic shift in how physicians practice. Social networking, smart phones, and other technologies have opened up new ways of communicating and sharing information, and this trend is unlikely to wane in 2010. Technology obviously shouldn't supplant traditional clinical skills or become a crutch, but the physicians that quickly learn to enhance their fundamental skills with new tools will thrive in the coming years.

3. Re-evaluate all finances and contracts. Although reformers fell short in areas of cost containment and quality improvement, if the current legislation passes they will have succeeded in significantly expanding access to healthcare. The financial implications of that are still unclear. Yes, there will be provider shortages and struggles. But David Gans, vice president of innovation and research for the Medical Group Management Association, thinks there will also be opportunities for doctors. The new "unlimited demand" for physician services may give them more leverage when negotiating contracts with insurers, and 2010 may be the year to revamp payer mix and take a closer look at practice finances.

4. Educate and work with patients. Look to Dave deBronkart—or ePatientDave—for an example of the patient of the future. He's tech-savvy and engaged in his own care, and perhaps most important, he wants to work with his physician. Doctors that embrace this partnership model and educate and listen to patients will have happier patients and perhaps better outcomes. It will be a challenge to do this while managing traditional patients, but 2010 is a perfect year to ramp up patient education efforts. With millions of Americans gaining access to insurance for the first time, there will be an influx of patients with low health literacy. Helping these patients learn to navigate the health system will actually be a big help to the practice.

These priorities may obviously change if healthcare reform fails during the final vote or we see a double-dip recession. No one can completely predict the future. But that doesn't mean you can't be ready for it.

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Elyas Bakhtiari is a freelance editor for HealthLeaders Media.

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