ACA Makes Life Harder for Struggling Independent Medical Practices
The Affordable Care Act was meant to improve the quality of healthcare in our country. But Americans who depend on independent medical practices to provide affordable care and offer a genuine doctor-patient relationship will find their healthcare quality eroding, becoming more expensive as it becomes less personal.
New healthcare laws are laying the financial groundwork for larger health systems to continue buying up independent practices. At the same time, these new laws place more regulatory burden on independent physicians, who not only lack the same resources larger systems have for staying in compliance, but also face steeper fines for falling out of compliance.
All of this means that independent medical practices are not just disappearing, but disappearing at a faster rate than ever before.
In 2008, 62% of physicians in America were in independent practice, but in just five years that number had dropped to 35%, according to The Physicians Foundation. That number continues to drop, and most doctors today believe private medical practices could be on their way out for good.
Though our country does need to reform its system of healthcare delivery, the disappearance of private practices shows we are going about it the wrong way. We should be preserving as many of these practices as we can, because they represent more choice for consumers, not all of whom want to join managed care consortiums.
In managed care, doctors and patients are matched by algorithms or administrators, which means patients do not get to choose which physician they see. When physicians in managed care set courses of treatment for their patients, they often do not have free rein to tailor treatments to individual patients, as a number of decisions are dictated from above.
The managed care system has gradually brought about a fundamental change to the doctor-patient relationship, and not all doctors and patients like it.
Independent Practices Need the Tools to Survive
Private medical practices are already under financial pressure, and provisions of the Affordable Care Act that add regulatory costs and burdens are only making things worse. Too many independent physicians find it too difficult to face the challenges on their own, and so they sell to larger health networks.
What they should be doing instead is finding new tools to help them stay in compliance, connect to larger health systems and government agencies, and keep their doors open.
Independent physicians have purchased software-as-a-service-based systems and electronic medical record systems that are designed to help them better manage their practices and — hopefully — make it easier for them to comply with government regulations.
But these software-based products cannot give independent practices the real tools that they need to stay in business.
For physicians to hold on to their independence, they need a new system of practice management that goes far beyond software, and puts them on an equal footing with larger health systems when it comes to government compliance, certificate maintenance, ICD-10 implementation, reimbursement issues and the myriad other challenges that physicians face.
Larger health systems can overcome these obstacles because they have both human experts and advanced software. Independent practices have been making do with a skeleton staff and software solutions alone.
Keeping independent practices thriving means making human expertise and advanced technology available to them. That is what a real practice-management system will look like.
This is something our country needs to do. Consumers need choice when it comes to their healthcare, and physicians deserve choice when it comes to where and how they practice. Anything else would be unhealthy.