Here’s how doctors can stay ahead of the curve in 2021

By Alistair Gardiner
Published February 1, 2021

Key Takeaways

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic threw a wrench into the works, the healthcare industry was facing myriad changes and challenges. Everything from advances in technology to shifts in how patients access care and interact with physicians had begun to morph healthcare.

MDLinx probed expert analyses and industry reports to better understand the new reality at hand—and how doctors can press forward. Here are four areas that physicians can focus on to navigate an evolving industry.

Revenue losses

Despite reports of intensive care units being overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients, US hospitals and health systems lost huge volumes of revenue in 2020. The American Hospital Association (AHA) estimated this sector suffered $202.6 billion in financial losses from March 2020-June 2020, predicting at least $120.5 billion in further financial losses between July 2020 and December 2020—due mostly to lower patient volumes. All told, AHA estimated losses of at least $323 billion nationwide for last year. 

A 2020 survey conducted by Merritt Hawkins illustrated the fallout, finding that one in five physicians said they had been furloughed or experienced a pay cut. A different poll by McKinsey and Company found that half of all physician respondents expressed concern over their practices shuttering.

It might seem like individual physicians can do little about this financial storm. But, given that revenue losses were primarily the result of fewer patients seeking treatment for conditions other than COVID-19, physicians may do well to prepare for a backlog of patients to return when the pandemic is under control.

One way to increase these odds is by better engaging patients as the consumerization of healthcare continues its rise.

Patients expect a healthcare experience that’s responsive, convenient, and digitally enabled, according to a report published by Econsultancy. The report also found that 60% of patients surveyed—and, significantly, 94% of patients under the age of 35—said they would consider switching to a new healthcare provider to access services like online booking and virtual care.

Further, Econsultancy found that 92% of patients research all healthcare options online prior to making a decision. A third of patient respondents said they use comparison sites to choose their provider.

How can physicians meet those expectations? Maintain an informative and engaging online presence and provide the best internet-based opportunities possible. Don’t be afraid to use social media, which Econsultancy found to be highly influential in patients’ research. According to the report, nearly 40% of patients use their social networks to gather recommendations about healthcare providers and services—and this percentage jumps to more than 50% of patients under 35. 

The rise of telemedicine

It’s likely that telemedicine is here to stay. While virtual care has proved useful during the pandemic, it was already on the rise before COVID-19. According to the Econsultancy report, most patients now expect to book appointments online, exchange secure messages with providers, and conduct appointments via video when appropriate.

While these changes might require enterprise purchases, individual physicians can begin considering the best ways to interact with patients. Focus on understanding the tone of virtual communications and how your specific patient populations feel when being addressed on a personal level. Provider organizations, which are likely to begin offering things like secure two-way messaging as a service, will benefit from physicians who learn how to convey warmth and understanding via these historically impersonal communication tools.

Healthcare data is also going to come into play. Econsultancy found that 41% of patients surveyed use mobile fitness apps, which collect various data on activities and behavior. Consumer technologies that create and monitor health and wellness data stand to become more common as time goes on. Doctors can prepare by becoming familiar with the latest products, the kinds of data they collect, and how such information can inform health checkups.


As the world goes digital, cybersecurity is becoming more of a threat—and healthcare is not immune. The Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights received reports of 642 large health data breaches last year, and the threat is poised to grow. 

So, what can doctors do to protect themselves and their patients, all while working in an industry that some experts argue has some of the worst cybersecurity practices in the world? 

Here are some bedrock tips: Read all security update emails sent by IT departments and improve password security by using a mix of upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols.

More important, though, physicians can learn how to handle the fallout of a data breach before it affects their patients. According to an Experian survey of 1,000 US adults, patients are far more likely to stick with a provider or clinic if they’re informed of a data breach within 24 hours. That same survey found that around 90% of respondents said they would be more forgiving and understanding if they knew their provider had a plan in place for communicating with patients following a data breach. Doctors should familiarize themselves with these communication plans and be prepared to communicate with patients who may have lost some trust in the provider.

Supply chain issues

Another big lesson from the pandemic is the vulnerability of the US medical supply chain. A recent report published by the consulting firm PWC suggests that healthcare should diversify its supply chain by tapping different suppliers from additional geographic areas, taking cues from other industries, like tech and automotive companies.

The role of physicians in this comes down to their expertise: They’re on the frontlines, so they have an idea of where the gaps and redundancies are in the supply chains. 

Some industry insiders suggest that physicians should actively engage in supply chain projects. Not only will they assist their organizations in saving money and becoming more efficient, they might learn leadership skills and gain business acumen. These physicians are also far more likely to bring about change that doesn’t disrupt treatment and practices, as they’re on the same page as their clinician colleagues. What’s more, this kind of engagement can help physicians compete for hospital administration jobs. And it never hurts to take ownership of the decisions that ultimately affect patients. 

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