Report: Independent practices feel positive about the future

After the pandemic setback, independent practices are optimistic and even more committed to providing quality care.

While the COVID-19 pandemic introduced a lot of uncertainty among independent physicians, they are still optimistic about the future of their practice.

The State of the Independent Practice report from medical software company Kareo gathered survey responses from 1,300 independent practices across 50 specialties. The results give a look at the state of the industry as the pandemic seems to be coming to an end.

Information on how the pandemic has impacted independent practices' attitudes can be found here.

Impact of the pandemic

The early days of the COVID-19 pandemic had a devastating effect on independent practices as many patients avoided crowded waiting rooms and limitations on elective procedures drove 11 percent of respondents to temporarily close during the pandemic. Of those, 39 percent reported they were closed between zero to four weeks, 24 percent were closed between five to eight weeks, 12 percent were closed between nine and 12 weeks, 8 percent were closed between 13 and 16 weeks, and 16 percent were closed greater more than 16 weeks.

By December 2020, 80 percent of practices had adopted telehealth visits.During the pandemic, 43 percent of independent practices only offered telehealth visits during pandemic. As of December, 27 percent of respondents say that more than 75 percent of their visits are currently through telehealth, while 37 percent of respondents say that these visits make up less than 10 percent of their total, according to the report.

Compared to the previous year, last December 51 percent of practices said their patient volumes were the same or better. Of all the surveyed practices, 29 percent say they saw an increase while 22 percent say they saw no change. The remaining 49 percent of practices saw a decrease from the year prior.

Expectations for the future

Despite these issues, 75 percent of practices expect to grow this year, up from 59 percent in 2019. Meanwhile, only 6 percent of practices believe they will shrink, and 18 percent think their practice will stay the same.

Part of this optimism may be tied to an increase in the number of independent practices which have no interest in merging with another practice or a hospital. Of the respondents, 86 percent say they have no interests in changing their current partnerships. Compared to 2019 when Kareo found that 27 percent of independent practices were looking to align with another practice or hospital and only 65 percent reported being uninterested.

When asked what actions they believe would help their practice grow in 2021, 54 percent of respondents say acquiring new patients is the most important. Other important factors cited by the respondents included recurring visits (50 percent), patient referrals (48 percent), getting found online (44 percent), and online patient reviews (38 percent). All these actions saw noticeable increases from the 2019 survey.