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The independent medical practice is not dead

Blog
Article
Medical Economics JournalMedical Economics January 2024
Volume 101
Issue 1

AIMPA intends to become a new voice for physicians in independent practice.

Independent practice is not dead: ©Lenetsnikolai - stock.adobe.com

Independent practice is not dead: ©Lenetsnikolai - stock.adobe.com

The American Independent Medical Practice Association (AIMPA) launched in October 2023 as a new voice for independent doctors.

The organization started with almost 5,000 members who provide health care for 10 million patients across 39 states. Those physicians are united by a passion for quality patient care that is accessible, cost-effective and unburdened by layers of health system bureaucracy.

“Independent medical practices are not dead,” said Paul Berggreen, M.D., inaugural president and board chair of AIMPA and a gastroenterologist in Phoenix. “We have some very smart physicians who are very much determined to remain independent and are also very much in the mindset of protecting our profession and our patients and delivering the care that we want to deliver, the way we want to deliver it, because we know that’s a great way to practice medicine.”

Berggreen added, “We’re here, we’re going to grow, people are going to hear about our message. And I think it’s going to be remarkably well-received by patients, by physicians and by policy makers.”

Berggreen discussed AIMPA and independent practices with Medical Economics. This interview was edited for length and clarity.

Medical Economics: What’s your favorite part about being an independent practitioner?

Paul Berggreen, M.D.: My favorite part of being independent goes with my favorite part of being a physician: talking to patients, interacting with patients, getting to take care of an entire family. You do a good job for the mom and suddenly you’re seeing all the kids and 30 years later you’re taking care of the kids’ kids. I enjoy that. I’ve always been in independent practice. I get to take care of those patients, interact with them on my schedule, the way that I was trained to do it, the way that I’ve found that it works better with my delivering care to my patients. That’s actually what keeps me going, that personal interaction. I think being in independent practice has kept that going for a lot longer. You get to go to work, you chart your own course, you take care of the patients the best way that you know how, you respond to needs, you respond to them quickly and efficiently. It really is the modern-day equivalent of the old-time family doctor who used to just do whatever he or she needed to for their patients. That’s what I think is the most fun.

I will tell you that I’ve also gotten more in tune with some of the policy objectives of the health care system in general and how we can improve the care that we deliver to patients, regardless of practice setting. Specifically, I look at that from the lens of the independent practitioner and [there are] a lot of things out there that we can improve, and we have the flexibility and the nimbleness to do so. That’s been a priority of mine for a number of years now.

Medical Economics: There already are a number of physician organizations devoted to various aspects of medicine. How do you define AIMPA’s role?

Berggreen: To my knowledge, there’s never really been an organization that’s focused [on] independent practices of every specialty. A lot of specialties have their own advocacy organizations, certainly. I’m a gastroenterologist and we have ours, and we talk about issues that are specific to gastroenterology. But there really needed to be an organization that spoke on behalf of private independent practices exclusively because the landscape has changed in health care, and it’s been a remarkable change.

In the ’80s, when I was in medical school, about three out of four physicians were in independent private practice medicine. Three out of 4 [By] 2021, that was 1 out of 4. That’s shocking. And what you’re seeing is that some of these policy initiatives from the government, some of the market forces that exist, some of the consolidation among hospital corporations, all have led to a change in the playing field from an overall strategy standpoint for the profession of medicine.

It got tilted in favor of hospitals basically swallowing up medical groups and taking advantage of some of those works and laws that may have been well-intentioned, but it worked out to be disadvantaging independent practice of medicine.

We’re trying to change that. We specifically went across every specialty that we could find to ask, “Are you facing the same challenges?” It turns out, everyone’s thinking the same thing, but there was no organization that represented us. And when you look at some of the other organizations that are multispecialty, they really have a broad constituency. They may represent independent practices, employee practices, academic practices, etc., and maybe offer other services.

We’re really laser-focused on issues that are important to independent medical practices.

Medical Economics: How do independent medical practices bring value to patients and communities compared with consolidated hospital care?

Berggreen, MD: I’ll go back to three things. We need to focus on quality, access, cost. We want to deliver the highest quality care that we can. Studies have been done — and they’re out there in multiple specialties — showing that care delivered in the independent medical practice setting is no different than care delivered by physicians in the hospital setting. There are no demonstrable changes in quality.

Accessibility is a big one because, in general, in private practice we accept all insurances, including Medicaid, and we have multiple offices in the community. In general, we’re spread out, we serve the communities in which we live, and so it’s much more convenient. Here’s an example. You come to my office, you park right outside the front door, you walk up to the second floor, and that’s where my office is and that’s where a lot of us are. We’re your local physicians. You don’t have to drive onto a hospital campus, park in a garage three blocks away, pay $10 for parking and navigate your way through a maze to get to your doctor’s office. So there’s a convenience factor
as well.

But one final issue that I talked about is cost. There are numerous studies that show that care delivered to patients in independent medical practice settings is significantly — up to 30% — less expensive than care delivered in the hospital-based setting. A number of factors contribute to that. But those numbers are out there, and that’s our experience as well.

Medical Economics: How will AIMPA work to inform patients and policy makers about the importance of independent medical practices?

Berggreen, MD: Our focus right now is actually on policy makers. We need to make sure that policy makers are aware that private practice, independent medical practice is alive and well and that we are an integral part of the communities in which we are based, for the patients whom we serve.

We were on Capitol Hill recently talking to multiple members of Congress. We found very receptive audiences. People will say, “Look, these physicians are important, integral members of the medical community and they are shrinking — different rates of contraction among different specialties, but they’re under threat. That does not serve the health care system well.” We found receptive audiences with policy makers. And it’s funny because a question that we got repeatedly from several members of Congress is, “Where have you been? It’s great to see an organization that’s here, that represents what we’ve been thinking as well — where’s the counterbalance to the hospital systems?” Well, we’ve been here all along. We’ll say that physicians have been slow to organize and slow to mobilize.

And that’s historical, right? We’re physicians, we’re busy taking care of patients in our offices, and then we do other stuff at night, so that’s the dynamic. But we have organized and we are mobilizing now and that’s to get our message forward to policy makers first, to local community outreach second. We want to let people know that our practices are still here, we still take care of 10 million patients a year. We can even talk to other groups of all specialties, including primary care, to say, this is what we do, and do you feel it’s valuable to join us? What we’re getting is a lot of yeses. So it’s very encouraging.

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