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Survey: Independent docs optimistic about their future


A survey of 782 independent medical practices reveals that burnout and getting paid are concerns, but most are optimistic about their future.

A survey of 782 independent medical practices by Kareo, a medical software company, reveals that burnout and getting paid are concerns, but most are optimistic about their future.

Physician-owned practices see 990.8 million visits in the U.S. each year, compared to 125.7 million for hospital outpatient visits, according to the survey. In addition, independent practices have a lower per-patient cost and 30-day readmission rate compared to hospitals, and they reduce avoidable hospitalizations by 33 percent. Physicians also experience far higher rates of satisfaction in independent practice versus hospital employment.

But there are many challenges facing independent practices. Reducing the impact of administrative tasks in order to free up provider time is a challenge for virtually every practice. More than 70 percent of respondents agreed that increasing demands on provider time for quality measures and EHRs are impacting care delivery.

The survey found a high correlation between time demands and burnout. This rate is higher among providers who have been in practice more than 11 years, who  were 19 percent more likely to be concerned with avoiding burnout than newer practitioners.

Getting paid is also becoming more difficult, according to the survey. The 63 percent of practices that find their patients more frequently paying for service directly are challenged by the fact that 68 percent of patients failed to fully pay off medical bill balances in 2016. This is up from 53 percent in 2015, and 49 percent in 2014. This number is expected to climb to 95 percent by 2020.

Despite the challenges, more than 60 percent of respondents expect their practice will grow in 2019, with less than one-third expecting to stay the same, and 11 percent thinking their practice will shrink. Newer practices (open 10 years or less), are more optimistic about potential growth.

While most practices are optimistic, they continue to evaluate alternative business models to meet the changing needs of the healthcare market, including consolidations, acquisitions, and partnerships. The previous trend for sales of independent practices to hospital systems appears to be slowing, with 13 percent considering joining a hospital, while 8 percent are disassociating from a hospital, for a net gain of 5 percent.

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