A brief primer on independent practice associations (IPAs)

Independent physicians who run their own practice have chosen to do so for a reason. They want to remain self-employed rather than report to a larger organization. They want to be able to provide individual, quality care to their patients. Independent physicians tend to be happier, earn more, and find more satisfaction in their work. However, those independent physicians often find they are on their own when it comes to practice management and navigating regulations and policies.

An entity called an independent practice association (IPA) is designed to help independent physicians benefit from being part of a larger group while still retaining their independence. Essentially, an IPA has as its main purpose, “reducing overhead or pursuing business ventures such as contracts with employers, accountable care organizations (ACO) and/or managed care organizations (MCOs).”

The IPA is considered to be a business entity, separate from each of the members’ practices, that is owned by the participating independent physicians. Joining together as part of a larger group enables independent physicians to combine resources. For example, overseeing and managing issues such as security compliance for EHR for an independent physician association can be much more cost-effective and efficient as a group than as independent practices.

Since becoming a part of an IPA does require signing legal documentation, the independent physician should seek legal counsel to review the specific requirements and ramifications. There may be other risks involved, including “underfunded capitation revenue, with risk of significant losses and/or bankruptcy” and “restrictions on collective bargaining by physicians from the Federal Trade Commission and Department of Justice.”

The independent physician should weigh the benefits against the risks before deciding to become part of an IPA. For the physician searching for an opportunity to coordinate and collaborate with other independent physicians, the IPA may be the solution. The goal of all independent physicians involved in the IPA must be to optimize healthcare outcomes for their patients, in order for the IPA to be successful in its mission.