Source: NC State Sustainability

January 17, 2017 by Yash Mehta

Isolation and Empowerment, The plight of independent physicians

The process of transforming and making healthcare smarter has led to innovations with numerous startups being heralded every year for their cutting edge solutions and breakthrough in healthcare. Often, the solutions created by startups or established enterprise often overlook the barriers faced by small independent healthcare organizations. Enterprises and startups alike fervently reach out to large healthcare organizations for establishing the validity of their solutions and expanding their reach. In this fervor, they overlook that fact that there are still many small independent practices that cater to the needs of the local community.

This presents a conundrum for both the practices and the startups – independent practices need to be able to sustain themselves and remain competitive compared to large healthcare organizations, however to do so, they need to be able to provide advanced services for their patients. Services including, in the form of digital health technologies, that do not necessarily cater to needs of and or are beyond the (financial) reach of these practices.

If companies, small and large, focus on going for the ‘big hospitals’ independent physicians will forced to cede to large healthcare systems. ProCare Systems released the 2015 Independent Physician Outlook Survey assessing the threats faced by independent physicians (Physician Migratory Patterns – Threats to Independence and Implications for the Future). Within the report, 73% of the respondent stated that they wish to remain independent if they can remain profitable and sustainable; however, economic & financial constraints will push them to join or merge with large organizations. However, 72% of respondents also indicated that they foresee ‘significant number of physicians of physicians returning to independent practice in the future’. Agility in adopting new models of care and focusing on ‘whole person care’ (91% of respondents agree) is of vital importance to them. New solutions for the market place (94%) and the plan to remain independent (56%) will push many practices to seek new models of care to remain financially stable and competitive.

While large healthcare systems are anchors for metropolitan areas, the independent practices are what binds the community and the patients together. Financial constraints and limited resources compared to large systems drive independent practices out of business – like in any other domain. When we take into consideration that (digital) health innovators far too often focus on the large hospitals, they are isolating the community providers. The crux being that independent practices are here to stay – they are the physicians our families turn to, they are the doctors we trust. For health tech innovators, there is an immense opportunity to empower the independent physician and strengthen their ability to better care for their patients.

Affordability, effective means of care, reliable reimbursement methods, and a powerful way provide high quality of care will determine if independent practices will remain independent. For innovators, there are many opportunities to empower the independent physician.

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