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Learn tips that help independent physicians grow successful practices.
While many healthcare providers across the country are overworked and understaffed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many independent physicians are struggling. In fact, a number of independent practices have had to lay off staff and even close temporarily because of a drastic reduction in patient visits. The California Medical Association (CMA) is taking steps to try to help independent physicians remain financially solvent through the coronavirus outbreak.
Patients are delaying primary care and other non-essential healthcare visits because of the coronavirus and that is significantly impacting independent practices. The CMA estimates that approximately half of the medical care in the state is delivered by solo and small practice physicians. It recently surveyed its members and found that:
Concerned that another wave of independent physicians may be forced to close their practices as the coronavirus shutdown continues, the CMA is lobbying the governor of California, Gavin Newsom, to provide financial aid in the form of retention grants issued by health insurance companies. The organization argues that patients are continuing to pay their insurance premiums but since the physicians’ offices with no patients are not submitting claims for reimbursement, they aren’t seeing any of that money.
Retention grants provided by health insurance companies would enable primary care practices and other healthcare providers to remain solvent throughout the crisis so they will be there for patients after it is over. As Dustin Corcoran, the organization’s CEO, says, “Three months down the road, we’re going to have high demand for physician services, surgical and primary care, and we’ve got to be able to meet that. Physician practices operate on very, very thin margins. They don’t have the reserves that payers have to weather the storm.”
In addition, the CMA estimates “statewide, up to 34% of Californians (more than 13 million people) could lose access to their physician absent financial assistance to maintain the financial viability of physician practices. Should California lose this critical piece of the health care infrastructure, health plans and insurers will be unable to maintain their physician networks and will be unable to meet the demand for medically necessary care that is building as the State’s health care resources are currently focused on treatment of COVID-19 patients.”
Elation Health supports independent practice during this crisis.
Check out our COVID-19 Financial Guide.
Financial assistance is available in California and across the country, but it often either has to be paid back or comes with restrictions that some independent practices may not meet. For example, Blue Shield of California is distributing advance payments and loans, totalling $200 million, that will have to be paid back after the crisis has passed. Federal aid is based on how many Medicare patients the healthcare provider typically sees.
The CMA is also pressing Gov. Newsom to ask the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) for a waiver that would allow California to repurpose some Medi-Cal funds that would also be used as retention grants for independent physicians.
Anthony Pappas May 27, 2020Read
As an independent physician, you are also a small business owner. While you are focused primarily on providing quality healthcare to your patients, you also are understandably concerned about maintaining the viability and financial stability of your independent practice during the coronavirus outbreak.
The American Medical Association (AMA) recently posted a checklist of actions that you and your staff can take to keep your independent practice open during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Elation Health supports you and your practice as you explore telehealth options. Learn more here.
Anthony Pappas May 7, 2020Read
Telemedicine is becoming more critical for the health and safety of physicians and their patients. During the COVID-19 pandemic, in-person office visits significantly increase the potential for exposure to the virus for all concerned. Telemedicine, or telehealth, is typically conducted via electronic means, whether that is through a video call or a voice-only telephone call, and enables the provider to maintain social distancing while still interacting in real time, providing quality healthcare services to the patient.
An article published in the American Journal of Managed Care in April 2020, suggests that “telemedicine is poised to address several unique challenges posed by the COVID-19 outbreak.” The article further states that “the CDC, as well as several state public health agencies and numerous industry associations, have indicated that telemedicine systems should be considered as part of healthcare provider coronavirus response systems.”
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has also expanded its coverage of telehealth for Medicare patients, as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Changes, as outlined by the American Medical Association (AMA), include:
As an independent physician, you will need to ensure that you are properly scheduling, completing your patient encounter, and billing for your telehealth services. Elation Health has prepared a Step-by-Step Guide to Telemedicine to help you with implementing the technology in your practice so you can be better prepared to deal with the latest healthcare restrictions and guidelines.
Our team has compiled a list of helpful articles as a guide for you and your practice as well, as you transition through the new healthcare regulations and guidelines. In addition, we have prepared a series of videos to help you learn how to more effectively communicate with your patients, understand the latest COVID-19 billing and telehealth practices, and keep up to date with the latest in eOrdering.
Elation Health continues to work diligently to ensure that you have all the information you need to safely provide quality healthcare for your patients during these challenging times.
Anthony Pappas April 22, 2020Read
Do you know how much your independent practice spends on overhead every month? Do you have a clear picture of your monthly revenue? Have you set financial goals for your practice? As an independent physician, you are in the business of helping people become and stay healthy. You are also in the business of keeping your practice healthy. Learning more about budgeting for your small practice will enable you to do just that.
Your practice is a business. Budgeting for your small practice helps you understand how to more efficiently and effectively run that business. Operating from day to day without a clear understanding of your financial situation is like going on a trip to an unknown spot without a dependable GPS. A budget that is properly prepared and reviewed on a regular basis offers useful insights into the financial health—present and future—of your practice.
Budgeting for your small practice involves some basic steps:
It’s never too late to develop a budget. Rick Gundling, CMA, senior vice president for healthcare financial practices for the Healthcare Financial Management Association, relates budgeting for your small practice to preventive medicine. “If you think of a practice as a living body, the budget is like a vaccine,” he says, “Having one doesn’t mean your practice’s health won’t go off track, but the risks are minimized. And when you check in on a periodic basis, that’s like your financial stethoscope.”
Anthony Pappas March 12, 2020Read
Patients are facing increasing out-of-pocket healthcare costs and, subsequently, independent physicians are seeing an increased need to discuss the cost of care with their patients. It has been estimated that approximately one-fourth of all patients in the US have trouble paying their medical bills. In addition, research has found that increased out-of-pocket expenses are associated with lower adherence, delayed or missed care, and higher mortality, so a discussion about costs could be critical for better outcomes.
An article published in the Annals of Internal Medicine by Dr. Caroline Sloan of Duke University Hospital and Dr. Peter Ubel of the Fuqua School of Business discusses the need to engage patients more fully regarding the costs of their care, to reduce the financial barriers as well as surprises that patients sometimes receive with their healthcare bills. Dr. Sloan and Dr. Ubel suggest seven strategies to effectively discussing the cost of care with patients:
Anthony Pappas March 5, 2020Read
Independent physicians who manage their own practices tend to have a closer connection with their patients and experience lower burnout rates. Although independent physicians are considering employment options in larger numbers, overall those providers are typically more content in their own practices. The benefits of independent physicians and practices include:
Autonomy. An independent physician can see as many or as few patients during the day as make sense for the viability of the practice and for the wellbeing of the patient. The patient sweet spot for an independent physician varies greatly, depending on the complexity of the problems the provider needs to address with each visit and on the practice’s finances and infrastructure.
Lower burnout rate. That autonomy contributes to a lower burnout rate among independent physicians. In fact, according to one major study, “13.5 percent of physicians in the small practices studied had experienced symptoms of burnout, compared to a national rate of 54.4 percent.”
Improved level of patient engagement. Independent physicians also have more control over the amount of time they spend with each patient and the communication that happens after hours with those patients. The doctor-patient relationship is significantly enhanced in an independent practice.
Opportunity to collaborate with other physicians. Independent physicians who want to collaborate with other providers, to join forces for the purposes of negotiating contracts, for example, have options available to them. Independent Physician Associations (IPAs) and Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) give providers group power while enabling them to maintain their autonomy.
Focus on providing quality care, not on corporate priorities. Another major study found that “small, physician-owned practices, while providing a greater level of personalization and responsiveness to patient needs, have lower average cost per patient, fewer preventable hospital admissions, and lower readmission rates than larger, independent- and hospital-owned practices.”
Anecdotal as well as statistical research has shown the many benefits of independent physicians and practices, that contribute to more satisfied providers, successful practice management, and higher quality care for patients.
Anthony Pappas February 21, 2020Read
Searching for an electronic health record (EHR) solution for your small practice can be challenging. Many EHRs either offer too little or too much, depending on your independent practice’s needs. Finding the best EHR for small practices involves determining exactly what your practice does need and then searching for the most appropriate solution for those needs. While this may seem a daunting process, there are a few key points to keep in mind to make finding the best EHR for small practices a little less challenging.
One of the main considerations for an independent practice searching for an EHR solution is whether that solution will be server-based or cloud-based. For a small practice, a cloud-based EHR is typically preferred as the maintenance and updates are handled by the EHR provider rather than requiring an in-house IT department.
With a cloud-based system, much of the configuring, security and software is handled by the EHR provider, eliminating a significant bulk of the work for the small practice. Since the server is created and managed by the EHR provider, the vendor is more likely to meet HIPAA patient information confidentiality standards, which also makes future expansions of a practice an easy task rather than a complete overhaul of the system.
When tasked with finding the best EHR for small practices, the independent physician may also consider the need for useful features such as e-prescribing and electronically ordering laboratory tests and results. Of course, cost is a major consideration as well for a small practice. The system should provide the efficiency the practice needs within its allotted budget.
A small practice with limited staff does not have time to sit in a training class for several hours and cannot afford any downtime with patient records. Independent providers must ensure that their staff can be easily and quickly trained on the new EHR system and that customer service is readily available when users have questions. Data transfer is critical as well, to enable the practice to continue providing quality care in a seamless and effective manner in the transition to the new EHR.
Anthony Pappas February 19, 2020Read
Many of the changes that independent physicians can anticipate in 2020 are continuations of policy, regulations, and other challenges faced by both doctors and their patients over the past several years. Healthcare costs will continue to be a concern as will reimbursement and billing policies. A few newer issues of concern in 2020 include the shortage of quality healthcare workers and the patient’s increasing desire to have healthcare provided more conveniently, through the use of technology when possible.
Healthcare costs are a concern for patients and physicians every year. In 2020, however, patients will increasingly expect price transparency and about three-fourths of them will look up procedure costs online so they can be better informed about what to expect. Legislation is also being considered that would eliminate “surprise” billing so patients are not alarmed when they receive a bill after treatment. Education is key to help patients better understand and prepare for the costs of their care.
Prescription drug prices are also a major topic for 2020. Several major drug makers increased their list prices on 50 prices at the beginning of 2020. While the Lower Drug Costs Now Act passed through the House of Representatives, its survival in the Senate is seen as doubtful. Independent physicians need to be aware that their patients will be increasingly concerned about drug prices in 2020 and may need assistance with managing their prescriptions.
For independent physicians who see Medicare patients, there are some changes for 2020. The Medicare Physician Fee Schedule conversion factor increases slightly, from $36.04 to $36.09. This will probably be the last significant increase in the conversion factor as there will be no inflation update in the next six years.
Independent physicians participating in Merit-based Incentive Payment System (MIPS) will face escalating penalties, particularly those who do not report any quality measures in 2020. It will be very important for independent physicians to focus on that quality reporting in 2020 so they can avoid the negative payment adjustment in 2022.
The value-based care movement has impacted payments from many private payers as well, as they see the value in paying for the quality of healthcare outcomes rather than for the quantity of office visits. Experts predict this will be a growing trend in 2020 and beyond.
Learn more about how physicians can use the data in their electronic health records (EHRs)
to maximize reimbursement and to help patients stay healthy.
One of the challenges that independent physicians may face in 2020 is a shortage of qualified clinical staff. Healthcare professionals, such as nurses, are growing older and retiring and there are fewer younger people filling their positions. One estimate is that the US will need approximately one million more nurses in 2020. According to The American Nurses Association (ANA), there will be more registered nurse jobs available through 2022 than any other profession in the United States.
Convenience of care
Patients are increasingly looking for ways to save money and to use technology for their own convenience. Their healthcare is no exception. Telehealth, connecting with the independent physician via telephone or video calls, is growing in popularity, which creates challenges for the provider who operates in a traditional practice to improve access for patients.
Telehealth has also been recognized by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) as a viable alternative for seeing patients, especially younger patients and those who live in rural areas. Telehealth services are included in the 2020 Physician Fee Schedule and CMS is allowing Medicare Advantage beneficiaries to access additional telehealth benefits, starting in plan year 2020.
Anthony Pappas February 4, 2020Read
The question of who invented electronic health records (EHRs) actually has many answers, but the development of EHRs can be traced back to the early 1960s. Traditionally, patient medical records had been kept on paper, in files. Those files were marked with various identifying information, often including the patient’s last name and an ID number, which may have contained part or all of the patient’s Social Security number. Those files were kept in cabinets or on shelves designed especially for medical records.
In the 1960s, Larry Weed, an American physician, researcher, educator, and entrepreneur, developed the Problem Oriented Medical Record. With this, Weed introduced the idea of electronically recording and maintaining patient data. Weed may be identified as the person who invented electronic health records themselves. In 1972, however, the first electronic medical record (EMR) system was developed by the Regenstrief Institute, according to the University of Scranton. Regenstrief’s EMR system was expensive and so was not attractive to physicians for use with their patients. The system was used, though, “by government hospitals and visionary institutions.”
As the personal computer became more common and more affordable, and as the Internet developed, EHR innovations also developed. Web-based EHRs started to emerge. In 1991, the Institute of Medicine (IOM), a division of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, led the way toward computer-based patient records by sponsoring studies and reports on the relatively new concept.
Throughout their development, EHRs have been identified by many names, including electronic medical records, computerized medical records, longitudinal patient records, and electronic charts. A Pearson Higher Ed publication states that “in 2003, the IOM chose the name electronic health records, or EHR, because ‘health’ means ‘a state of well-being.’”
The IOM subsequently established eight core functions that should be performed by an EHR, including:
According to Pearson, these “eight core functions … became determining factors in the evolution of EHR, and the ability to perform these functions is the criteria by which EHRs are judged.”
Anthony Pappas January 28, 2020Read
Many independent physicians may consider opting out of Medicare for a variety of reasons. Some cite the burden of reporting requirements while others struggle with the low reimbursement rates. There are considerable regulations involved in Medicare and independent practices may feel overwhelmed with keeping up with the reporting, particularly those participating in the Merit-based Incentive Payment System (MIPS).
The idea of opting out of Medicare, however, causes independent physicians to pause and consider whether it will work for their practices. While they may want to continue caring for elderly patients, they also recognize that Medicare requirements may actually be detrimental to their practices. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) data shows that the number of independent physicians who have opted out of Medicare has steadily increased since 2013, when 130 physicians opted out. In 2016, CMS states that 7400 physicians opted out of Medicare for their practices.
One option for physicians who choose not to participate in Medicare and independent practices that want to remove themselves from the insurance middleman completely is to shift their operating model. Independent physicians who convert their practices to a direct care model typically do not accept any form of insurance, including Medicare. Instead, they charge a monthly membership fee which is typically adjusted according to the patient’s age.
A major drawback to opting out of Medicare is losing the practice’s elderly patients. Unless those patients are able to pay out of pocket, for example in the direct care model, they will typically search for another provider who will accept Medicare for their care. In addition, if the decision turns out to not be a good one for the independent physician, the process of re-entering the Medicare world in a financially positive way can be lengthy.
The independent physician who is considering a Medicare opt-out and who currently cares for Medicare patients should carefully calculate whether losing those patients will work well for the long-term success of the practice. Those patients must be informed in writing of the physician’s decision. Other paperwork must be completed, including signed agreements with Medicare patients who decide to stay with the practice. Most importantly, the practice’s billing system must be transformed to ensure that no accidental Medicare billing occurs after the physician has officially opted out.
Anthony Pappas January 21, 2020Read