Independent physicians who want the advantages of belonging to a larger organization while at the same time retaining their autonomy are choosing to join independent physician associations (IPAs). An IPA is, according to the AAFP, “a business entity organized and owned by a network of independent physician practices for the purpose of reducing overhead or pursuing business ventures such as contracts with employers, accountable care organizations (ACO) and/or managed care organizations (MCOs).”
IPAs are growing, as more independent physicians recognize that they need collaborative power when negotiating contracts or navigating complex reporting requirements. In fact, the IPA Association of America (TIPAAA) says that it represents over 300,000 physicians who are associated with IPAs.
Independent physicians find that they are able to focus more on their patients and less on administrative tasks when they are part of an IPA. One study, conducted of 1164 practices that had 20 or fewer physicians, has shown that “physicians participating in IPAs provided about three times as many care management services for their patients with more than one chronic conditions as compared to non-participating practices: 10.45% over 3.85%.”
When asked about the movement around IPAs, Scott Kronlund, MD, MS, the President and CMO at Northwest Physicians Network in Tacoma, the largest IPA in Washington, confirmed that there is definitely an increased interest in IPAs among independent physicians. Dr. Kronlund noted that “The marketplace is too complex for private practice physicians to survive on their own — they need help synthesizing data and responding; they need support so they can be flexible in this ever-changing environment.”
Dr. Kronlund added that his group began with 375 members and has grown to over 1,000 independent physicians. He attributes the movement around IPAs to the many challenges faced by independent physicians, including clinical integration, administrative burdens, and negotiating power that helps increase revenue. Many independent physicians are not able to participate in shared savings programs due to the economies of scale. IPAs can also benefit independent physicians by playing a key role in the implementation and optimization of healthcare technology, including electronic health records.