Mainstream media is flooded with stories about physician burnout, doctors giving up medicine, and practices being gobbled up by unwanted acquisitions. Independent physicians feel that their choices have boiled down to:
- Working more hours
- Seeing more patients (while spending less time with each)
- Cutting down their compensation
- Giving up their practices
Some new doctors even view becoming an independent primary care physician as a dead-end and immediately seek employment with hospitals, large groups, or the government.
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However, this is a false narrative built by the media. The truth is that independent primary care physicians are flourishing across the country with private primary care practices that provide outstanding care, nurture patient relationships, and are financially stable. These practices have re-architected traditional models in order to succeed. Here’s how you can do it too.
Independent primary care physicians are thriving across the US — you just need to focus on the right things to remain successful.
How to Take Control of Your Practice as an Independent Primary Care Physician
Focus on Your Patients
The single most important aspect of the practice of primary care is the relationship between the physician and their patients. Unfortunately, quality patient-doctor interactions are often one of the first things sacrificed in the name of “efficiency.”
Spending time with patients should be a top priority, especially since taking care of patients is why you got into medicine in the first place. Concentrate on spending as much time with your patients as they deserve. It may feel impossible, but we’ll discuss how you’re going to “pay” for this later. As a first task, figure out how much time you have and how much time your patients need. Build your staffing and financial plans around that, rather than the other way around.
Design your schedule so you can focus more on your patients.
To handle the demands of your independent practice, you need effective tools that automate and streamline practice management. As reporting and administrative requirements continue to increase, this is more important than ever. The only way you can handle this increased burden is to staff up, handle it yourself, or automate and delegate to third parties.
In reality, automating and delegating tasks with advanced technology is the only sustainable solution to helping your practice thrive.
While you may have been burned before by EHRs, the latest platforms have the solutions required to optimize your practice management. If you’re struggling with an EHR that you adopted during the mad gold rush to digitize practices — it’s time to ditch it. You and your staff spend all day working within your EHR; you should love it, not loathe it or even just tolerate it.
It’s easy to get lost in feature comparison charts, but checklists don’t provide an adequate picture of what it’s like to actually use a product. Fortunately, it’s easy to determine whether you should be looking for a new solution. Simply ask yourself: “Does it do everything I need it to do?” and “Do me and my staff enjoy using it?” If you answer “No,” then it’s time to find a new solution.
Consider Alternative Payment Models
Payment options are rapidly moving beyond traditional fee-for-service models. It’s important to explore these new options to determine if they can make an impact on your practice:
- Value-based care: CMS designed this program to “reward health care providers with incentive payments for the quality of care they give to people with Medicare.” Reimbursements are determined based on several reporting requirements that encourage better patient care rather than more patient visits.
- MACRA / QPP: The Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA) replaced an older program with the new Quality Payment Program (QPP) in 2017. Qualified providers are split into two tracks: Alternative Payment Models (Advanced APMs) and the Merit-Based Incentive Payment Program System (MIPS), each of which provides different bonuses based on provider performance.
- Primary Care First (PCF): PCF, a brand-new program that will go into effect in 2020, promises that doctors will receive a simple “flat stream of revenue” for each patient. If that patient stays healthy and out of the hospital, then the doctor will receive a bonus. But if the opposite occurs, then the practice will be responsible for the extra spending associated with that patient’s care up to a certain share of its revenue.
- Direct Care: This is not a CMS reimbursement program, but rather the re-emergence of an older medical practice model where doctors contract directly with patients instead of working through insurance companies. Implementing a direct care practice often improves work-life balance, reduces practice overhead, brings higher per-patient revenue, and helps physicians maintain their autonomy.
Maximizing these reimbursements or implementing a new practice model requires the right tools to ensure that you meet the necessary reporting requirements. A robust EHR solution provides an easy way to track not only individual patient health but population health as well — a critical component of many reimbursement programs. Using these tools will keep your practice running smoothly.
Make sure you have an EHR solution that includes the reporting tools you need to meet reimbursement program requirements.
Flourish at the Heart of Patient Care
Maintaining a thriving independent primary care practice is no simple feat, but optimizing processes with the right tools makes it easier. The right EHR system is at the heart of practice management, and it’s what drives a successful independent primary care practice. It can help you effectively complete reporting for internal use as well as for maximizing reimbursements. Even better, it will help optimize processes so you can focus on patients and give them the time they deserve.
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