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How Administrators Can Respond to Pressing Healthcare Issues

“May you live in interesting times” is a curse that initially sounds like a blessing, at least until one considers all the implications of the description “interesting.”

Healthcare administrators might think this curse has been leveled at them, since contemporary healthcare issues are, to say the very least, interesting.

Between technological advances, government regulations, spiraling costs, changes in reimbursement, the opioid crisis and more, healthcare administrators will have their share of interesting challenges for the foreseeable future.

The challenges, though, aren’t insurmountable, even if few are likely to be resolved quickly and neatly. Administrators will need to be flexible, open to change and cognizant of the impact of these changes beyond their specified targets.

Here are some of those challenges, along with some suggestions on how best they can be met.

Healthcare Costs

The Office of the Actuary at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services forecasts an annual growth in healthcare spending of 5.8% through 2025. U.S. healthcare costs already are higher than those of most first-world countries and many employers are cutting back on health insurance benefits for their workers.

Healthcare administrators may feel their hands are tied here, as most cost increases are out of their control. However, they can respond by setting priorities and being creative and diligent in the search for alternative funding to keep research and community programs operating.  For example, the National Information Center on Health Services Research and Health Care Technology (NICHSR) links to various grants, funding and fellowships on their website, which would be an excellent place to start.

Administrators can also help lower costs by promoting integrated care. Patients with multiple chronic conditions are costly, and as the aging population balloons, so will this high-risk population. Implementing an integrated healthcare plan can help decrease spending while improving patient outcomes.

The Opioid Crisis

The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that more than 72,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2017. More than two-thirds of those were attributed to opiates, many of which were prescription medications. Many addicts who abuse street drugs such as heroin picked up their habits after being prescribed opioids such as oxycodone.

A paper by PwC’s Health Research Institute offers suggestions for dealing with the crisis. Among them:

  1. Improve patient management to bridge care gaps: Managers can encourage consistent contact and interaction with patients who have been prescribed opioids. This may help physicians spot burgeoning addictions and also provide opportunities for discussions about pain management and alternatives to opioid medications.
  2. Marshal resources with technology and data sharing: Combining data from private and public healthcare organizations can help reveal larger trends and patterns in opioid abuse, and also makes it easier to find and reach at-risk opioid patients.
  3. Offer safer chronic pain treatment alternatives: Support groups, relaxation techniques and lifestyle changes won’t provide the quick pain suppression of an opioid, but healthcare professionals at all levels should encourage pain patients to look into alternatives to addictive medications. Physicians should seek out and prescribe non-addictive pain medications when possible.

Technological Advances

Artificial intelligence and Big Data are making a huge impact on healthcare. However, for all the advances they have already made, and for all the promise they have, technology brings with it its own issues. Interoperability still has not been fully achieved, and it’s needed for Big Data to fulfill its healthcare potential. Artificial intelligence for many workers elicits fear that their jobs will be made obsolete. For facilities already strapped for cash, AI can represent a costly step to stay current with healthcare technology.

Writing on Healthcare Informatics, former hospital administrator Sarath Degala offers some advice for leaders in the quest for interoperability:

  1. Know what you need and know what vendors are offering.
  2. As with almost any major upheaval, a new EHR system will bring about loss of productivity. Plan for it.
  3. Involve your clinicians.
  4. Don’t let vendors steer the conversation.
  5. Don’t skimp on testing time.

As for AI, PwC recommends that freeing workers of repetitive tasks should be seen as an opportunity to have them take on more important duties, not render them obsolete. Facilities that lack money or workforce to implement AI should consider partnerships with technology firms to fill the gaps.

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