The ability of independent medical practices to remain so has become increasingly difficult over the last decade. The number of physicians in private practice has dropped from over 60% in 2012 to a continuously declining 45% today. But, despite the hurdles of operating today’s physician owned practice, many doctors recognize the advantages of staying independent.

What Happened to Private Practice?

Insurance reimbursements are steadily declining, coding and regulations are constantly changing, new technology is becoming standard practice, staff shortages abound, and administrative burdens are on the rise. These changes are non-negotiables that many physician-owned practices are facing, and some find themselves in a difficult position. Due to these often-untenable challenges, more of our physicians are relinquishing their autonomy to join large consolidations. 

A study as early as 2020 found that almost half of medical practices had reduced their staff and 8% dissolved due to the recent medical changes- before Covid-19 hit. Although it was a financial nightmare for healthcare, during the pandemic, practitioners received full compensation for telehealth visits. Temporary measures were implemented by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Unfortunately, that wasn’t sufficient for most to cover their losses.

Post pandemic, nearly three-quarters of physicians surveyed have experienced a significant reduction in income. The reimbursement rates for a Medicare physician has continued to decrease over the past several years.  Additionally, private health insurers typically do not allow independent practices much negotiating power with coverages. New codes, regulations, climbing denial rates, staff burnout, and shortages add to the stress, and for many doctors, it is just not worth it.

Independent Practice Know-how is the Secret to Success

It is true that staying independent in primary care practice has never been more challenging. Practitioners are working more hours, treating sicker patients, and receiving less financial compensation. This makes staying independent as a physician less attractive- but not to patients.

Surveys show that patients who have a preference absolutely want to see an independent primary care physician. Independent practices are a vital component of the health care system. Physician-owned medical practices need to survive for the healthcare industry to continue to remain competitive and meet the needs of their patient population.

Independent practice allows providers to adjust quickly to changing health care environments, and they can act without requiring multiple meetings, and committee approvals. When payor and Medicare incentive programs change, private physicians can quickly adjust and adapt the updated metrics. An additional advantage of staying independent is the ability to expeditiously meet an urgent patient need.

Being independent allows physicians to improve on what they were trained to do, and want to do, care for their patients. This happens in practices that embrace flexibility and innovation, with a strong focus on patient and staff satisfaction.

Innovate to Meet Demands

As the fastest growing industry in the U.S., the state of the healthcare industry impacts both patients and the economy. Primary care practice studies show that they are better when it comes to lowering preventable patient costs and have happier patients and staff as a result.

Independent primary care doctors are innovating and adapting to new and increased patient needs, technological advancements, and the ever-changing health care landscape. Although most providers face new and increasing pressures, Primary Care physicians experience the larger share.

It isn’t all bad news. Independent practice has many advantages if physicians are willing to adapt. Simple actions to increase revenue in private practice can be accomplished quickly and easily. Some measures include reducing write offs, meeting patient scheduling needs, negotiating better reimbursements, choosing the right RCM billing software partner, and hiring well-trained medical staff.

Creative Schedules and Patient Satisfaction

Many of today’s successful private practices have adjusted to offer more flexible scheduling. Independent medical practices are often extending their hours, including Saturday appointments and virtual visits that offer early morning or evening appointments to accommodate patient work schedules. These small changes can make a big impact on patients who struggle to make it to an office visit with their work and family commitments. Due to the flexibility of virtual visits, providers can see a patient needing a more urgent visit quickly during their open schedule times. Nearly half of all medical care in America happens in the ER, and most care being administered is non-urgent. Patients and providers both benefit from making schedules flexible to keep some of their patients from an unnecessary and costly Emergency Room bill.  

Negotiate your Reimbursement Rates

The value of a medical practice increases as it grows. Medical practices shouldn’t fall into the habit of continuing to operate under their original contracts or simply accept changes without question. Successful physicians negotiate using a data-based analysis that demonstrates how they provide value to payors, and better health to patients. When a medical practice has a well-constructed case, physicians can effectively negotiate better reimbursement rates with success. 

Provide frequent training opportunities for medical coders and billers. Medical coding and billing regulations are constantly evolving, but failing to provide training can have a high opportunity cost. The new ICD, CPT, and HCPCS codes since 2020 are challenging to even the most experienced coding professionals. To reduce initial coding errors, independent practices should provide frequent training to their coders and billers. In addition, physician-owned practices can implement an effective RCM system to track denials and collect patient payments.

Learn How to Get Paid

Receiving full payment for completed work is one of the best ways to boost revenue.  Doctors’ accounts receivables play an essential role in saving independent practices, making the most of patients they already see, and collecting payments they are owed. Make a habit of resubmitting coverage denials quickly, and collecting co-pays at check in.

Grow your Patient Base

Physicians building private practices work to develop their individual brand. The choices a physician makes regarding specialty, patient population, location, practice policies, office amenities, technology, and communication skills, are all factors that impact their patient base. The positive human touch of a private practice should not be underestimated.

Better Practices Depend on the Best Advice

A medical license allows most any physician the right to own and operate a private medical practice, but the administrative task of operation generally requires the help of experienced professionals. Managing common issues is critical to success. Creating a positive culture in a private practice is not easy, but a toxic workspace is a deal breaker for many of today’s healthcare workers.

Leading a cohesive and efficient team through change requires consistent leadership and insightful changes. As both clinical and management leaders, and chief strategists, physician practice owners should work to increase practice efficiency, improve patient care, and enhance professional satisfaction for patients and team members. Because physician burnout is strongly tied to workplace factors, making the right decisions for your practice is more urgent than ever. Although private practice, like any business, will always have problems, there are physician options for effectively managing them. Discover how some of medicine’s biggest headaches can be eased. Proven workflow improvements that can increase efficiency and quality of care in many medical settings are available. Virtual OfficeWare Healthcare Solutions has guidance and solutions for how physicians can succeed and thrive in private practice that offer actionable, expert-driven strategies and insights.