The 3 Greatest Obstacles Facing Private Practices and the Simplest Way to Solve Them
Independent practices have proved that they provide better outcomes at a lower cost than large health systems, but private practices are disappearing more and more each day. According to AMA's Physician Practice Benchmark Surveys, for the first time, physician-owned private practices are no longer in the majority. In 2016, 55.1% of physicians were working in privately owned practices compared to 60.1% in 2012. The reality for younger physicians is even bleaker with ownership among physicians under 40 being at about 27.9% (https://www.ama-assn.org/practice-management/economics/first-time-physician-practice-owners-are-not-majority). Why are medical professionals moving away from the private model?
As more boomer physicians retire, the latest generation is unlikely to take on the risk of running their own independent practice. For a newly trained, fresh-out-of-medical-school physician, positions in highly profitable hospitals offer too much stability and lucrative pay in the short term to turn away. With offers from large organizations that can help them repay their seemingly insurmountable student loans, it's easy to sign on the dotted line. But at what cost?
Over the last few decades, the workload that is required of an individual physician has escalated dramatically without any corresponding increase of pay. Much of this uptick in workload can be attributed to the transition to inefficient and burdensome EMR systems. A study from Annals of Family Medicine concluded that primary care physicians spend more than half of their average workday on clerical work like documentation and data entry. With 6 hours of an 11-hour workday being spent on the computer rather than on their patients, it's obvious why we are seeing more and more physicians take their work home with them. (http://www.annfammed.org/content/15/5/419.full)
This administrative burden typically falls on the backs of physicians, and hiring extra hands to alleviate the weight isn't always a financially realistic option. To combat this, we should be looking for ways to maximize profit with a smaller pool of patients so physicians can focus their energy on providing the best care possible without being stretched too thin. This is where we can turn to the deep pockets of insurance payers for the answer.
Year after year, insurance companies have been absorbing their competitors and merging to maximize their own profits. By paying into lobbying efforts and playing the political field, they have leveraged themselves into a position where they can increase premiums at will while neglecting to increase the rates for the physicians. They claim that mergers help them reduce the cost of healthcare and eliminate waste, but in reality, they are shifting the costs to the providers while hoarding more of the profits for themselves. Insurance companies' profits keep skyrocketing and they are leaving the providers and patients that they represent in the dust. Over the last decade, inflation has risen by over 20%, while Medicare reimbursement has increased by less than 5% (NGA Healthcare 5 Year Forecast). Each year, payers are increasing their premiums by double digits, yet we rarely see these increases passed on to the physician groups.
The issue most physicians run into is the nightmare that is dealing with insurance payers. One of the major benefits of partnering with or being acquired by larger organizations is being able to avoid that headache altogether, but the solution is to hold payers accountable and negotiate your reimbursement rates.