4 healthcare trends that will impact medical practices

Healthcare is changing. Consumer trends, regulatory changes, the introduction of technology and the general economic climate are impacting how healthcare is delivered, both globally and in South Africa. As a result, healthcare is more dynamic than ever before, balancing the responsibility of quality patient care with the changing environment that it operates in.

We’ve shortlisted the 4 primary trends that will impact healthcare in the coming year and what you can do about it for your practice’s benefit. 

1. Shortage of doctors

The shortage of skilled doctors is not a new trend. It has however, been compounded by the fact that more and more doctors are leaving South Africa due to the impending NHI, political uncertainty and economic pressures. With less doctors, one would think that the private doctors who have remained would be thriving with more share of the pie to go around however, this doesn’t necessarily seem to be the case. One reason for this is that although there are more patients per doctor, patients’ pockets are stretched. Many patients are actively trying to avoid seeing a doctor until absolutely necessary and/or simply opt for advice from pharmacists with over-the-counter medicines. Another reason is that medical practices are faced with the rising costs of doing business. So even if they are growing their patient base, the cost of this base is also growing. 

What can you do?

You should have a strategy in place that allows you to grow your patient base, while keeping a handle on operating expenses. For example, an increase in your patient base also means increased administration. The number of benefit checks your staff need to perform or the number of reconciliations that need to be completed can become costly if you have to increase your staff compliment to manage the workload. But using technology to automate these tasks will free up your current staff so they can attend to other patient admin increases.  For more tips and tricks to scale your medical practice for profitability, click here.

2. NHI uncertainty

The rollout of NHI has brought about additional uncertainty about the future for doctors and their practices. This has left a number of doctors in private practice adopting a wait-and-see approach and postponing important decisions to expand their practice, move their practice’s location or upgrade equipment. 

What can you do?

The reality is that even though the affordability and viability of NHI is still to be established, its implementation will roll out over several years in a number of stages. It’s reasonable to expect delays in a national, centrally funded health service. It is possible that your practice could continue to operate for years to come without much impact as a result of NHI. This doesn’t mean we can rest on our laurels, but instead you can continue to grow your business within the climate your practice currently operates.  

3. Healthcare technology adoption

More affordable, better quality care has been the catalyst for the adoption of technology in healthcare. To date, we’ve seen changes in how practice’s manage patients, bill for services and optimise their businesses to reduce costs and improve efficiency. Going forward, we will see continued wide-spread adoption of technologies such as clinical management systems that record electronic medical records (EMR), artificial intelligence (AI) and tools for Big Data analysis. Although EMRs have seen a slow uptake in South Africa, they are the only way that patients’ information and diagnoses are being recorded and managed in first world countries. AI has the potential to provide doctors with clinical decision-support when it comes to diagnosis and treatment; giving them the information they need to concentrate on decisions that only they can make. Big Data, or data analytics, helps practices to learn more about their patient population, what services to offer and how to refine business processes to reach optimum efficiency.

What can I do?

First, the core of how your practice operates needs to be digitised. For example, a standalone billing system will simplify the admin side of your business however, this technology becomes more powerful if you can leverage other complementary technologies.  For instance, having your billing integrate with your patient records will streamline your practice to a whole new level. Similarly, having digitised patient records will help simplify accessing patient data. Some technologies now have AI built into your EMR and can provide you and your practice with a new level of clinical-decision support.  Keep in mind that there is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to choosing the right technology for your practice. The key is to decide what technology will simultaneously enhance the business side of your practice and the quality of the patient care you offer. Research what types of technology make the most sense for your specific practice and how it would be best implemented. Still not convinced? Click here to read how using technology can benefit your practice.

4. Smartwatch data usage

The wearable industry has grown enormously over the last few years with smartwatches coming out on top in terms of popularity. Analysts expect the wearable trend to continue with very little chance of slowing down.  A recent study of current smartwatch users found that out of all the available smartwatch features, activity tracking is the second-most widely used. Forty-five percent of smartwatch owners use their watch to track activity. According to the Intrado article¹: “Without even knowing it, patients who use their smartwatches to monitor their activity levels and health are helping improve a problem that has frustrated doctors for years: patients’ lack of engagement in their own healthcare. Thanks to smartwatches, many more patients are now paying attention to their health and daily habits. And doctors can get involved to encourage further engagement.” 

What can you do?

Patients engaging in their own wellness is great news for healthcare but it also means that more patients are going to be visiting your practice with individualised data. Incorporating their data into your consultation is a great way to build lasting patient relationships but it can also seem overwhelming and/or more non-clinical data to process. However, by having your own patient charts that track key patient metrics over time you will be able to enrich the conversation and best guide your patients to continue making healthy lifestyle choices, have regular screenings and encourage participation in their own health as a standard. 


Looking ahead at 2020, it’s clear that you can’t control all the external factors that may impact your practice, but you can ensure that your business is running optimally and continues to realise tangible growth. If you need help with optimising your revenue and practice processes, click here for a complimentary practice assessment.

  1. P.on J. & Posted in General, 2019. Smartwatches Are Making It Easier to Engage Patients. TeleVox Solutions. Available at: https://www.televox.com/smartwatches-are-making-it-easier-to-engage-patients/ [Accessed December 19, 2019]

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