Top 2 Trends Orthopedic Practices are Focused on for 2024

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As healthcare continues evolving amidst rising costs and a shifting economic landscape, orthopedic practices must stay flexible to fuel growth in 2024. Two top trends that high-performing orthopedics are focused on this year are physician shortages and higher staffing costs.

Keep reading to learn about the driving factors behind these trends, obstacles facing orthopedic providers and most importantly— solutions to pave the way for a successful 2024!

1. Physician Shortages are Increasing Orthopedic Demand & Time-to-Care

The orthopedic field is facing a critical shortage of surgeons in the coming years. Studies project over 5,000 fewer orthopedic surgeons in the workforce by 2025. This shortage amplifies the challenge of meeting rising patient demand and reducing wait times.

According to a 2022 Merrit Hawkins survey, average wait times for an orthopedic surgery appointment have climbed to 17 days, with some metropolitan areas seeing averages upwards of 55 days. For new patients, wait times are averaging 26 days in major cities across the US.

With retiring surgeons and increased orthopedic care needs amongst the aging population, demand is exceeding capacity. Patients are being added to waitlists faster than they can be treated.

Extended wait times can lead to deteriorated quality of life and mobility for orthopedic patients expecting knee, hip, and other joint procedures. As demand outpaces supply, practices must optimize efficiency to improve time-to-care.

Strategies like online patient scheduling and waitlisting can help orthopedic clinics maximize existing capacity. Automation and care coordination will be key to supporting rising patient volumes with limited surgeon availability. Additionally, prioritizing patient convenience and access is essential to meeting demand and preventing last-minute gaps in schedules.

Make It Easier for Patients to Get on Your Schedule

The more convenient your scheduling and waitlist processes are, the more likely you will keep patients coming to your office, versus looking elsewhere. 

To maximize appointment capacity, orthopedic practices must prioritize patient convenience and access. Offering services like 24/7 online scheduling and automated reminders enhances the patient experience and reduces scheduling gaps — meaning more patients are seen every day.

Convenient access must be a priority to retain existing patients and attract new ones. Practices risk losing patients if they encounter difficulties like long phone wait times or limited availability when booking appointments. Allowing patients to book appointments online, anytime, optimizes capacity by facilitating bookings after-hours and at the last minute. According to one report, 82% of patients prefer seeing providers that offer self-scheduling. 

With physician shortages contributing to capacity limitations, optimizing patient convenience through self-scheduling and reminders is essential. Online scheduling portals allow patients to book appointments 24/7 based on real-time availability. This facilitates bookings during off-hours when the phones are closed, as well as last-minute bookings to fill cancellations.

Practices can configure online scheduling to align with their providers’ preferences and restrictions, only making visible appointment slots that work for each providers’ schedule. This prevents errors that can happen with manual phone booking. Together, these conveniences incentivize patients to stay with the practice versus seeking care elsewhere when appointment needs arise. By making it quick and simple for patients to book appointments, practices can maximize surgeon availability despite staffing gaps.

Incorporating a waitlist helps you solve the “urgency” challenge for patients, while also reducing revenue lost due to open time slots that would otherwise go unused. By offering a waitlist, orthopedic practices can demonstrate their commitment to prioritizing patient needs and ensuring timely access to care. This proactive approach helps you retain patients who might otherwise seek services elsewhere due to appointment unavailability. Additionally, a waitlist allows practices to optimize their scheduling process, maximizing patient capacity and earned revenue per time slot. When one patient cancels or reschedules, an automated waitlist can notify other patients who are “NextUp” on the waitlist to book that new, last-minute opening. As a result, your practice automatically incurs fewer gaps while increasing bookings. 

Get Smart With Your Reminders Solution

Manage patient demand by implementing a proven no-show reduction strategy. You owe it to your entire patient population to help them make it to the office on time and keep provider schedules full, so they can see more patients.

A proven no-show reduction strategy will be key to your success. While no-shows may seem like an inevitable part of practice management, there are steps you can take to drive a significant reduction in no-shows. Use smart patient reminder tools that allow you to send follow-up reminders and customize the message notification method (voice, email, text) — all to ensure your patients get their heads up!

Consider how many of your patients may miss their reminder message, because you have an old email address and didn’t call or text their phone number? Having multiple notification options and follow-up customization in your reminders tool is imperative to ensuring your patients get to your practice on time and receive the care they need. 

2. Minimum Wage Increases for Healthcare Workers Spike Practice Costs

Rising minimum wage legislation and increased demand for healthcare workers are posing new financial challenges for employers. Recent policy changes have mandated sizable hourly pay increases for healthcare workers in some regions.  

For example, California recently approved a 30% minimum wage hike for healthcare staff at most facilities. Wages will rise from $15.50 to $21 per hour in 2024, increasing again to $25 per hour in 2025. Other states are expected to follow California’s lead in passing healthcare-specific minimum wage increases. 

Nationally, the American Medical Group Association reports labor costs are up 10% and growing. This increase goes beyond clinical staff, including administrative staff, billing personnel and other critical roles for specialty practices. Adding to the growing burden, 56% of medical practices are increasing benefits packages, further raising overhead costs. These wage increases span across your entire staff, including physicians, nurses, clinical and administrative staff. 

These pay bumps come as orthopedic practices are already facing thin profit margins and ongoing staffing shortages with high turnover. As labor costs spike, clinics will need to find ways to boost efficiency and value to maintain sustainability.

Automation and streamlined workflows will be key strategies for supplementing staffing as wage floors and competition rise. 

Lean into Automation

Implementing solutions to automate mundane workflows like scheduling, registration, and reminders can supplement orthopedic staffing levels, helping you get more done, with less staff. Whether you can’t afford to hire more administrative staff or you’re facing tough competition for competent administrative employees, automation can help you patch the gaps.

Automation provides several benefits beyond like:. 

  • Streamlining repetitive administrative tasks
  • Decreasing burnout for overworked/understaffed practice staff
  • Improved efficiency due to reduced human error
  • Increased collections
  • Improved patient data capture
  • Improved scheduling efficiency
  • And more!

For example, implementing patient self–scheduling that allows patients to book appointments 24/7 can help practices put acquisition on autopilot, increasing bookings after hours and on weekends! Digital patient self-scheduling solutions also improve scheduling efficiency and accuracy as they can’t deviate from pre-determinged workflows. As a result, patients are booked in a way that strictly follows practice and physician requirements, no matter how demanding a patient is. 

Automated workflows also substantially improve data accuracy across the patient journey by removing manual data capture and the margin for human error. By leveraging automation to optimize essential workflows, staff no longer waste time on repetitive clerical duties and can be reallocated to other tasks that cannot be automated. 

By reducing menial tasks, practices are able to successfully reduce churn and employee satisfaction. 

One practice manager shares, “What I have seen is that I have been able to give staff more interesting tasks, not more work. They can broaden their understanding of how the practice works, rather than execute the same menial registration tasks over and over again for the entire day. They’re getting educated in billing, selling and in other areas. Now, their day is more interesting, and they are happier.”

Utilizing technology solutions supplements orthopedic staffing by reducing low-value administrative work. This empowers practices to focus their skilled workforce on specialized roles that truly drive revenue.

Looking Ahead to a Successful 2024

The landscape of healthcare in 2024 will be defined by practices who take proactive steps today to tackle wait times and burnout through smart operational changes. Leveraging integrated automation and patient-centric solutions will be key to optimizing capacity, workflows and staff potential. 

As economic uncertainty persists globally, orthopedic clinics that invest now in streamlining patient access, maximizing reimbursements and supporting staff through inevitable change will gain the competitive edge.

To learn more strategies for orthopedic practices to drive growth in 2024, download the comprehensive guide: “7 Trends Impacting Orthopedic Practice Growth in 2024”

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