How can physicians combat industry shortages and meet patient demands?

November 8, 2017

In the next few years, a major shortage of primary care physicians will sweep across the United States. By 2025, the number of physicians needed will fall short by 46,000 to 90,000, according to a recent study from the Association of American Medical Colleges.

In the next few years, a major shortage of primary care physicians will sweep across the United States. By 2025, the number of physicians needed will fall short by 46,000 to 90,000, according to a recent study from the Association of American Medical Colleges.

 

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A number of factors contribute to the shortage. First, primary care physicians (PCPs) typically earn less than specialists. As a result, fewer medical students are pursuing careers in general practice. According to 2017 LinkedIn salary data of the highest-paying occupations and median base salaries in the U.S., physicians make an average of $220,000 a year. Four types of specialists-cardiologists, radiologists, anesthesiologists and surgeons-top the list with median base salaries of $356,000, $355,000, $350,000 and $338,000, respectively.

Second, some PCPs have not embraced technology advancements to satisfy the modern patient’s needs and expectations. Other types of healthcare providers, however, have started offering patients convenient services like virtual visits to reduce travel and waiting times. Consequently, some patients have chosen specialists and other types of healthcare providers offering robust telemedicine and virtual visit options instead of primary care physicians for their healthcare needs. This, in turn, affects PCPs’ opportunities to grow their practices and boost revenue.

As a primary care physician, how will you adapt your practice to meet new and increasing patient demands while addressing business challenges brought on by the impending shortage? With value-based approaches taking over traditional fee-for-service payment models, how can you deliver quality care to patients in condensed periods of time?

To run your practice efficiently and stay competitive, you should strive to provide patients with convenient services, think creatively when developing new organizational structures and build strong relationships with insurance providers and payers. As always, keep your goals and bottom line in mind when evaluating new strategies to optimize your practice. 

1.     Evolve your healthcare delivery channels to match patient expectations

Patients expect convenience. In this technology-driven world, the expectation of immediacy is a reality. Don’t drive your patients away to other physicians, urgent care centers or emergency rooms because your next available appointment is a month away. Consider modernizing your delivery of care with services such as virtual visits delivered through a patient portal or app to attend to patients when they need you.

 

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PCPs spend an average of 14 to 16 minutes on in-office patient visits, according to Modern Healthcare. However, telemedicine platforms can cut patient visits down to an average of two minutes. Virtual visits will not replace in-person care, but they can effectively supplement care and boost patient satisfaction rates.

Next: "You do the math"

 

While third-party software products come with a price tag, technology investments can help your practice to stay competitive instead of falling behind. 

You do the math. With services like telemedicine, Skype consultations and giving patients the option to schedule appointments online or through apps, you free up your time and resources to help more patients. You’ll also have more time to develop strategies to build a smarter and more streamlined practice.

 

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Nonetheless, the growing role of technology in the delivery of care introduces cybersecurity concerns. More than 27 million patient records were compromised in reported healthcare data breaches in 2016, so establishing a strong cyber security program is crucial. Restricting access to protected health information, implementing firewalls and training employees on IT security best practices can help protect your patients’ health information.

2.     Think creatively when approaching your practice’s organizational structure

When was the last time you examined your practice’s office locations and hours? Taking a closer look at patient needs, emerging market trends and more can reveal opportunities to assist more patients and increase revenue.

·       Open additional types of service sites. Consider establishing your own urgent care center so your practice can take care of patients in critical times of need instead of losing their business to competing healthcare providers.

·       Expand office locations. Research market trends and population changes across surrounding areas. Opening office locations in underserved areas experiencing population growth asserts your presence before other practices follow suit. Also take a look at demographics and see how you can tailor your new office’s design and services to meet particular needs. For example, older patients may respond well to quiet, comfortable seating areas in the waiting room while younger patients might prefer phone charging stations.

 

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·       Reevaluate office hours. Take a look at appointment patterns. Do most of your patients prefer appointments later in the day or earlier in the morning? Should you offer weekend hours? What about extending services later in the evening, when people are out of work? Instead of becoming complacent with standard office hours, test new hours and see how patients respond. Tailoring hours by office location will better serve patients while maximizing your staff’s time and resources.

Next: Collaborating with payers

 

3.     Collaborate with payers and explore alternative reimbursement models

More and more reimbursement contracts call for value-based payment arrangements, causing the traditional fee-for-service model to dwindle. You will be held accountable for the cost and quality of care rather than the number of patients you serve. Have you proactively prepared for this reimbursement shift?

·       Consider risk-based alternative arrangements. Arrangements like capitation and ACOs can increase revenue and drive more value in the payer-provider relationship. Collaborating with payers and sharing risk with other doctors and hospitals can help you work more effectively and succeed within today’s dynamic healthcare environment.

·       Partner with payers and sign up for a narrow network. Payers want to steer their members to doctors who provide value-based care and practice good medicine. The smaller the network, the more opportunities they have to strengthen relationships with providers. Physicians may want to consider partnering with payers as one of a few providers within a narrow network, which tend to carry lower premiums for patients.

 

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·       Understand your success in value-based care. Adopting analytic models and methodologies ahead of time will help you comprehend various types of data needed to determine your success in value-based care.

Transforming traditional approaches to patient care can help your primary care practice endure the physician shortage, in addition to creating opportunities for new types of business. Running an efficient and competitive practice can enable you to not only meet emerging patient expectations, but to enhance profitability as well.

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Kevin N. Fine, MHA, is a director of healthcare advisory services in the Miami office of Kaufman Rossin, one of the top accounting firms in the U.S. He can be reached at kfine@kaufmanrossin.com.