Our “Physician Voices” series empowers doctors to share their unique stories, expert perspectives, and helpful insights. In this Q&A, Dr. Zia Khan of Peachtree Medical Center in Georgia explores the art of listening to patients, partnering to thrive in value-based care, joining her mother’s independent practice, and more.
Why did you choose to go into independent practice?
I grew up in Peachtree City, Georgia, where my mother opened her own private practice. Keep in mind that this was in the ’80s and in the South. She was not only a female physician but an immigrant with a strong accent. I remember times when she was overwhelmed, but she always persisted because internal medicine was her passion. Very quickly she became very busy. Every day I’d come home from school and run into her practice, which she ran out of a small medical space, as her patients — kids, parents, grandparents — greeted me. I saw the impact she had on our community. I loved that. I knew one day I’d follow in her footsteps.
I completed my residency in Brooklyn, focusing on acute care. Afterward, I worked for that same hospital’s ambulatory center. But I knew I wanted to become a primary care doctor because of how my mother touched people’s lives. So I transitioned to the hospital’s primary care department. I still wasn’t happy though. I missed the connection my mother had with her patients, some of whom are now my patients. She knew their stories, birthdays, and anniversaries. It was like they were extended family, which, in a way, they were. Big hospitals often lose that familiarity. So I left and joined my mother’s practice.
What challenges did you encounter when transitioning from a hospital to an independent practice?
When I started at my mom’s practice, she was still using paper charts. That was a shock coming from this big hospital in New York City where we had a high-tech electronic health record (EHR). I loved where I was, but it was getting harder to be a solo practitioner and compete with the local hospital. Then I received an invitation from Jim Sams, MD, who is respected by doctors throughout Georgia. He wanted to talk about the difficulties of running a private practice and an organization he’d partnered with that helped him succeed. I honestly thought it sounded too good to be true. But I was struggling, and I was curious.
After talking with Dr. Sams, I sensed that our goals for patient care aligned. So I took a leap and joined Privia Medical Group — Georgia, and that was exactly what our little practice needed.
Having an EHR again was such a blessing and athenahealth was so easy to use. It had amazing features but also the fundamentals, everything from faxing to a single inbox for lab results. The workflow was intentional and intuitive.
In those days, it was just me and my mother. All the support helped us offload administrative work and instead focus on seeing patients. This enabled us to grow. We soon welcomed another physician who shared our vision. Now we have five doctors and three nurse practitioners. We couldn’t have done that on our own. Many doctors don’t realize there are options like this that can offer the support they need, especially as healthcare steers toward value-based care.
What solutions have helped you with value-based care?
Value-based care has the potential to center medicine on the deeply personal doctor-patient relationship. However, many of the business aspects of this model are difficult for doctors. There’s all the benchmarking, fulfilling quality measures, and demonstrating results to payers. For this to work, we need to show payers that we’re keeping their beneficiaries healthy. But we need data to inform and validate our care delivery. Unfortunately, that data is complex and seemingly unattainable to many smaller practices.
That’s the value of a partnership between clinicians and teams of experts who understand the business, technology, and administrative aspects of healthcare. You need both. That’s why Privia excels in value-based care. They understand how powerful this combination is and place physicians at the forefront. They realize the importance of clinical perspectives and governance. Physician leadership is paramount.
What tools and services help you connect with patients?
One of my greatest strengths is listening. Patients often tell me that they don’t feel heard, which is heartbreaking. If you listen, patients will tell you exactly what issues they’re having so that you can diagnose and treat them. But our fee-for-service model forces doctors to rush through as many patients as possible in order to stay afloat. With Privia’s support for value-based care, I’m able to see very sick patients, spend time listening to and caring for them, and still get fairly reimbursed. In a way, Privia’s accountable care organization (ACO) enables me to go back to the basics of medicine by allowing me to slow down, connect with patients, and still be compensated.
Another great connection tool is the patient portal. They love that they can message me directly, and I no longer worry about a patient’s question slipping through the cracks.
The portal also supports virtual visits. This is a huge benefit for all of my patients, but especially elderly ones. They often can’t come into the practice for many reasons, such as chronic pain or mobility issues. This age group really values the primary care relationship, and so they appreciate the ability to see and speak with me.
I know that if I didn’t have this partnership with Privia, it would be very difficult for me to offer my patients these tools that do so much to nurture the doctor-patient relationship.