Physicians communicate and collaborate with each other in a number of ways. In particular, independent physicians reach out to other independent physicians for support, networking, idea sharing, and different needs that come about as a result of being self-employed and responsible for their own practice management. There are a couple of options for independent physicians who may want to join forces in different aspects and on different levels.
An independent physician association (IPA) is a business entity that helps independent practitioners support each other. By joining an IPA, you can connect with others in the network and access more resources that improve patient outcomes while lowering overhead costs.
What is an Independent Physician Association?
Independent physician associations (IPAs), also called independent practitioners associations, are separate healthcare business entities "organized and owned by a network of independent physician practices." IPAs provide the benefits of a larger group while allowing each of the independent physicians in the group to retain their independence. The IPA does not provide or control the compensation of primary care physicians.
Physicians can also join a clinically integrated network (CIN) that makes it easier to refer patients to specialists, coordinate strategies with other healthcare practitioners, and keep costs as low as possible.
Benefits of Joining an Independent Physician Organization
There are several benefits for physicians who want to join an independent physician association:
Better Contract Negotiation
Physicians sometimes join together to create an Independent Practice Association so they can work together to negotiate better contracts for their services or for supplies they need from radiology, laboratories, or hospitals. By being part of a larger group, they have more bargaining power when negotiating with health maintenance organizations (HMOs) for better pay. However, because the IPA is a separate business entity, physicians who participate need to be aware of potential legal ramifications.
Reduced Administrative Burden
IPAs in healthcare give independent physicians the resources to manage their practices more efficiently and to reduce start-up costs. Many IPAs provide services such as payroll, benefits management, bookkeeping, compliance, legal, marketing, and online reputation management services. Additionally, IPAs are able to handle many administrative tasks for members such as claims processing and quality reporting. This allows physicians to spend more time providing phenomenal patient care, and less time on administrative tasks.
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Access to Secure EHR
Many IPAs offer access to revolutionary technologies such as cloud-based EHR systems that allow physicians to aggregate patient health data from different sources, and securely share patient data with hospitals, labs, and clinics for better care coordination.
Guiding Principles for IPAs
IPAs are similar to other healthcare organizations like Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) and Managed Care Organizations (MCOs). However, IPAs are more loosely structured, allowing healthcare providers to maintain more independence while still benefiting from the support of other practitioners.
Although loosely structured, IPAs have guiding principles contributing to patient and physician successes. Guiding principles for IPAs include:
- Support unique patient-physician relationships to improve levels of care.
- Let physicians in the network act autonomously.
- Trust practitioners to determine the levels of autonomy and participation that works best for them and their patients.
- Find methods to improve efficiency and lower costs so physicians can earn more money even while patients pay lower prices.
- Include diverse participants in the IPA network so more physicians can access the services and specialists their patients need.
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IPAs vs Medical Groups
Medical groups, on the other hand, are practices consisting of multiple providers “characterized by sharing of patient care duties and physical space.” In the group setting, independent physicians are part of a larger practice, which can benefit them by offering access to other physicians when they are faced with tough diagnoses or other challenges.
In a group practice, each of the physicians' compensation is based on “a method that includes a salary and some type of productivity bonus or incentive” and comes from the managing practice. Potential benefits for the independent physician who chooses to participate in a group practice include the fact that it is “generally viewed as less volatile than solo practice and more likely to afford a controlled lifestyle.”
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What Does IPA Mean in Healthcare?
In healthcare, IPA stands for "independent physician association," a group of loosely affiliated healthcare practitioners that can share resources to improve services and lower costs.
What is the Purpose of an IPA?
IPAs allow independent practitioners easier access to healthcare resources, such as specialists, and more leverage when bargaining with organizations like HMOs and medical supply companies.
What are the Benefits of Joining an IPA?
The benefits of joining an IPA can differ between networks. Some common benefits include the following:
- Access to support services, such as payroll, bookkeeping, marketing, reputation management, and compliance management.
- Increased leverage when bargaining with other organizations.
- Improved access to new technologies at affordable prices.
Depending on the IPA's structure, it can protect physicians from some of the risks associated with working in healthcare.
What's the Difference Between IPA and CIN?
Although independent physician associations and clinically integrated networks (CINs) have a lot in common, they differ in several essential ways. Two of the biggest differences include:
- IPAs give participants more flexibility so they can choose their levels of independence.
- CINs often have greater support for physicians participating in the Medicare Shared Savings Program.