According to a recently issued American Medical Association study, the number of independent doctors has declined in the period between 2012 to 2016, leaving fewer than 47.1% of physicians with ownership stakes in a medical practice.
Yet, in a recently issued survey conducted by Medscape, market analysts say they expect private practices will remain a “permanent fixture” in healthcare. Although the numbers of new independent practices are still lower than in years past, analysts believe private practices will continue.
The continuation of private practice is spurred in part by a growing percentage of formerly employed physicians who “are adopting new practice models, incorporating elements like patient management, concierge services, house call services and direct primary care into their practices.” These physicians are returning to private practice in order to retain their independence while uniting to enjoy the perks of alignment.
Experts often say that the overall decline in independent practices may be attributed to myths surrounding life as an independent physician. Indeed, a 2016 infographic from the Advisory Board suggests that new physicians prioritize lifestyle and work-life balance over compensation, and are increasingly seeking employment over owning their own practices. But is it true that employed physicians have better work-life balance than their independent counterparts?
Here are four myths about physicians who still find merit in practice ownership, debunked:
MYTH 1: Independent physicians do more work than physicians in larger health systems
It is often said that owning one’s own practice is burdensome. But you might be remiss if you believe that health system employment is “easier.”
In large healthcare systems, physician’s choices are often predetermined. In addition to administrative duties universal to all physicians, they must juggle additional responsibilities mandated by their employers. A recent piece from the New York Times illustrates how employed physicians can be held accountable for hitting metrics put forth by their employer, regardless of the patient risk that could be associated with rushing to hit those targets. Tulare Regional Medical Center “passed new bylaws written without the input of the hospital’s physicians, including some stating that physicians’ ‘status’ at the hospital would depend on the number of patients they admitted — in other words, their economic value to the facility.” Employed doctors experience the weight of a highly competitive atmosphere, heavy workflows and diminishing patient interactions in exchange for access to hospitals’ resources.
Doctors who have their own practices have the freedom to hire doctors, nurses, and medical staff. Technological systems and clinical assistance programs are available to help meet the needs of their patient population.
MYTH 2: Patients aren’t affected when doctors become employed
Patients seek out providers who deliver valuable interactions and are able to accommodate their needs. Unfortunately, it is difficult for physicians employed by large organizations to build and sustain longstanding bonds with their patients. Often, visits consist of long wait times with extremely short face-to-face time with the primary doctor. Patients often voice their frustrations with the quality of care and high costs associated with hospitals.
MYTH 3: Independent physicians do not make as much money as employed physicians
Living in a tech-dependent world means that businesses must learn how to operate in this manner as well. Private practices that continually update their technological systems actually report seeing greater wages compared to those of employed physicians. A 2017 Physician Compensation Report states “among all physicians, those who are self-employed earn $343,000 per year on average compared with $269,000 for their employed peers, a difference of 28%.” Despite some of the risk-factors and operational costs associated with owning a practice, statistics indicate independent physicians who are organized in physician-led groups see greater financial rewards in private practice. By contrast, employed physicians often deal with salary re-negotiation processes and debates over capped pay structures.
MYTH 4: Being an independent physician means you must navigate the healthcare system alone
Independent practices struggling to make ends meet or looking to increase collections have a few options available to become more financially successful and retain independence. One option is merging with other practices to form an accountable care organization (ACO). A second option is joining an independent practice association (IPA) or an independent physician network geared toward the idea of strength in numbers.
When independent physicians unite, they’re able to prioritize their needs while ensuring each provider maintains ultimate control of their practices; they can hire, fire, decide hours of operation, and generally run their practices as they see fit. At the same time, they benefit from the services provided by these groups, such as innovative technology, automated customer support and scheduling, strong referral streams, the ability to negotiate better contracts with payers, physician recruitment, billing and collections assistance.
Joining with the right partner empowers doctors to start making those next steps toward future success.