Accessing orthopedic care isn’t what it used to be—it’s easier than ever. But easy isn’t always better.
The traditional orthopedic patient journey, starting with finding a provider, has been disrupted by
technological innovations, new market entrants, and the acceleration of virtual care. Simultaneously,
consumer behaviors around choosing orthopedic care services have changed with the rise of healthcare
consumerism. In the past, orthopedic providers could count on acquiring new patients by word of
mouth or through a primary care physician (PCP) referral. Today, up to 35% of orthopedic patients self-
refer when shopping around for orthopedic care.
In the new era of orthopedic market growth, independent orthopedic practices need to adopt a more
proactive, patient-centered approach through the use of digital solutions. Given the risks associated
with digital musculoskeletal (MSK) platforms, there’s a delicate balance between introducing digital
tools to improve patient acquisition and creating an orthopedic care free-for-all. The key is
implementing digital solutions when it matters most: routing patients to the right place to receive the
Independent orthopedic providers should focus on capturing consumers early in their decision process,
converting them into patients, and keeping them engaged with the practice throughout their care
journey. With the right tools and business model changes, orthopedic practices can simultaneously beat
the competition while improving access to care. Let’s review four reasons why orthopedic practices
need to embrace digital solutions to unlock growth opportunities.
Consumers have been conditioned to anticipate convenience from all types of services, such as ordering
groceries, getting a ride-share, and depositing money. Accessing healthcare isn’t an exception. Today,
patients seek out, and expect, an Amazon-like experience during healthcare interactions, including
seamless, customer-friendly service. Therefore, it’s essential for orthopedic practices to provide
consumers with an instant and convenient process while they are searching for a care path.
While self-scheduling has been touted as the way to a consumer’s heart, and the practice’s gateway to
increased patient volume, opening up scheduling online to anyone is more likely to land patients in the
wrong hands. Instead of leaving it up to the patient, orthopedic practices can invest in matching
technology that streamlines the scheduling process for the patient and provider. When capturing a
patient virtually, a digital solution can quickly determine the right provider based on acuity, patient
preferences, capacity, and organizational goals.
Another motive for delivering a delightful acquisition process is the mounting pressure from healthcare
regulatory bodies to improve the patient experience. Recent updates to the Centers for Medicare &
Medicaid Services regulations put the onus on both providers and payers to expand digital services and
deliver on patients’ high expectations.
As the burden of costly MSK conditions continues to grow, so does the long list of orthopedic care
options for consumers. Independent orthopedic practices should focus on deploying consumer-oriented
access points to intercept patients earlier in their decision process. To win a share of the local
orthopedic market, it’s important to engage with consumers when and where they need care—whether
that’s Saturday morning hockey practice or Monday afternoon on the job.
Prior to market shifts, orthopedic providers could confidently rely on their relationships with referring
PCPs to regularly acquire new patients who fit their criteria. Since consumer behavior has changed,
more and more patients are skipping a visit to the PCP altogether and finding care in more convenient
settings. A digital solution can expand access to care through multiple entry points, such as secure
messaging, virtual triaging, online chat, or telehealth visits. By implementing new processes and
technology, orthopedic practices can also help address the social determinants of health and promote
greater health equity in their communities.
As self-funded employers actively seek ways to reduce their healthcare costs, MSK-related conditions
are ripe for cost containment efforts. But employers are getting too distracted by the shiny object—the
claim that digital MSKs will lower their costs—and are avoiding the long-term repercussions of coercing
employees to forego more advanced care like surgery.
Unfortunately for the employer and employee, digital MSKs are targeting the wrong cost containment
problem and doing so in a dangerous way. For example, patients with chronic MSK conditions are
treated by health coaches instead of trained orthopedic providers. The real cost problem is when
employees use the Emergency Room (ER) as a default source of care when a need arises. By adding a
digital access tool, employees can engage with an orthopedic provider directly, avoid an ER visit, and
receive the appropriate care.
In today’s orthopedic market, partnering with employers to provide convenient access to orthopedic
care is nothing new, but independent orthopedic practices are still far behind compared to digital MSK
solutions. With deep integrations into payer data feeds, digital MSKs seek to intercept the patient
before they see an orthopedic specialist and offer them an at-home PT program. Practices should align
with local employers to compete with other orthopedic practices as well as the health systems that are
still acquiring a majority of patients through PCP referral sources.
While implementing digital access tools in orthopedic practices provides many benefits to the patient,
this business model also drives revenue growth to improve the health of the practice. Through extended
access points, practices can grow commercial patient volume through multiple additional referral
sources. By capturing patients early in their care journey, providers maintain complete control over their
patient funnel from initial injury through recovery, helping to reduce patient leakage—a top priority for
94% of health systems in 2022.
Additionally, with recent staffing issues and budget cuts across the healthcare industry, it’s critical to
maintain a lean team. Digital solutions help increase productivity in a practice’s call center by
automating scheduling and referral tasks.
During such a dynamic time for the orthopedic industry, this is no time to be complacent. The
independent orthopedic practices that fail to embrace change and leverage the current opportunities
will be overlooked by consumers and employers. The good news: Practices don’t have to navigate the
new era of the orthopedic market alone. Finding strategic partners who offer digital healthcare solutions
built for orthopedic practices can help engage and acquire new patients without disrupting the current
Hatch provides digital solutions that help orthopedic practices get every patient in the right place. As a
result, patients receive the optimal level of care and practices maximize their strategies for growth.
Learn how Hatch can support your organization.