Perspective on Independent Physician Practices: A Look into the Past and the Future
Independent physician practices date back to the days when doctors would use a horse and buggy to make home visits to patients. These physicians took pride in serving the community and often received little compensation in return. As populations grew and cities became larger, physicians started working out of brick and mortar facilities to address the needs of their patients on a broader scale. The need to establish formal medical education and standards was recognized as a high priority. Ultimately, this led to the creation of the American Medical Association in 1846 as an established formal medical education center with organized standards.1
So why is the history of the medical profession important? Because the passion, motivation, and desire of those original physicians is the same today for independent physicians. Unfortunately, some industry experts think independent practices are outdated while others think they could be making a comeback.2 “New alternative payment models are helping physician practices remain profitable–and independent–in the current healthcare landscape. Patient-centered medical homes, physician-led accountable care organizations, and other alternative payment models are offered to encourage value-driven healthcare help practices and physicians preserve their autonomy.”2
What does the data say about the decline in independent physician practices?
YouGov conducted a national survey on behalf of the Large Urology Group Practice Association (LUGPA) to identify the impact of increasing rates of hospital mergers and acquisitions on patients. The survey showed Americans:
- Are concerned that lack of access to affordable care can pose a significant threat to their health and well-being3
- Have higher trust in independent practicing physicians versus those employed by hospital systems or larger entities3
- Favor site-neutral payment solutions, where insurers compensate all medical practices equally3
- Prefer the government do more to compensate independent practices to help them compete with larger hospital systems3
- Favor regulation of hospital system purchases of independent practices3
According to the LUGPA survey, 65% of respondents trust an independent physician to give them the best healthcare recommendation over a hospital employed physician. Americans are most likely to associate independent, doctor-owned medical practices with personalized, patient-focused care. They also associate independent medical practices with trustworthiness and high quality, rather than quantity.3
It is important to highlight a few reasons why some physicians still want to own and operate their own independent practice. Physicians, as critical thinkers, often like to have full autonomy in their decision-making process. Remaining independent allows them to maintain control over their choices, versus being regulated by a hospital system with tight policies and procedures. One example would be a strict medication formulary chosen by a Pharmacy and Therapeutics (P&T) committee. Being able to choose your office staff, operating a medication formulary without restrictions, and having flexible hours are just a few reasons that some physicians choose to work independently.2
Americans care deeply about their health and strive to find the best care possible. It is very encouraging to see so many embracing the independent practice as a provider of high-quality care at an affordable cost. We can certainly appreciate the growth, traditions, and the future of independent practice as the hometown hero.