“I decided I didn’t want to be owned again. I needed to be able to make those decisions…how much time my patients got to spend with me, how much time I had to work, when I could take time off, and what kinds of things I could offer my patients.”
~ Dr. Barbara Hummel, family physician who sees private practice’s value every day
The health care industry has experienced a huge upheaval in the past years. If it was not bad enough before, with overburdened physicians suffering from career burnout, the COVID-19 pandemic has only made this moment of crisis even worse. Doctors who once happily worked in a hospital environment are now confronted by increased caseloads and demanding safety protocols, while those in private practice have seen a reduced number of in-office patient visits combined with increased administrative chores.
Trying to make an informed choice as to where to best serve patients with the least amount of stress, while maintaining a healthy personal work-life balance, can be difficult. On the one hand, hospital service promises fewer administrative chores and a potential career path, but it also means a loss of independence, subject to the whims of bureaucratic decision-makers.
An independent practice, on the other hand, offers full autonomy and closer patient relationships, but still raises the specter of being confronted by an onslaught of challenges, such as:
- Figuring out how to reduce the inefficiencies of the charting process.
- Finding ways to balance the time demands of holding in-person visits with learning new technologies associated with the rapidly-growing telehealth opportunity.
- Ensuring a consistent revenue stream by maximizing billing efficiency and minimizing collection delays.
- Continuing to provide the highest levels of personalized patient care.
As the pandemic drags on, more providers are re-evaluating their decision to engage in hospital practice, with an eye toward returning to the private arena. This article looks at just a few of the many benefits of making that change and discusses the technology that is now available to make the transition seamless.
How to Build on the Benefits of the Independent Practice
“The good physician treats the disease; the great physician treats the patient who has the disease.”
~ William Osler
The American Medical Association (AMA) supports physicians in delivering high-quality care to patients. Their recommendations for succeeding as a physician in private practice include:
Use the Autonomy of the Private Practice to Provide Higher Levels of Patient Care
In the hospital environment physicians are often frustrated by overlapping levels of bureaucracy. The focus can sometimes feel like it is more on making financial decisions than on providing patient-centered care. Being in a private practice, however, imbues the doctor with the leeway to independently analyze a specific patient’s condition, and allows the flexibility to develop a more personalized treatment plan.
Capitalize on the Opportunity to Learn From Your Already Successful Peers
There are multitudes of doctors who have made the successful transition from hospital to independent practice who are willing to share the benefits of their experience with others who are starting out on their own. Insider tips focus on organization, documentation, time allocation, and partnering with those companies that can fill your knowledge gaps.
Build a Better Support Team
Hospitals have plenty of members on their board and administrative team to help them run more efficiently. To open and operate your own independent practice, you will need the help of other business professionals on your advisory team, such as an attorney, accountant and knowledgeable insurance agent.
Define Your Practice "Brand"
While the medical community does not talk so much in terms of marketing, it is important to define exactly what type of independent practice you are creating. The choices you make about your specialty, patient population, office location, practice policies, office amenities, communication capabilities, and commitment to patient satisfaction and education are fundamental factors in establishing your “brand.” This is what will draw patients to your practice, and what must be communicated effectively to them as well as to members of your staff who are expected to deliver on your brand vision.
Create a Positive Internal Culture
In the hospital an individual physician really has no say about how the team interacts with patients. In a private practice, however, owner/founder physicians have the perfect opportunity to create an environment that reflects their particular point of view. This vision can be reflected throughout your team by sharing information, brainstorming challenges, providing education, and soliciting feedback. Your leadership and strategies will develop a cohesive and efficient team that establishes a positive environment for all involved – your team members, your patients and yourself.
Take Steps to Overcome the Most Common Hassles Associated with Private Practices
Perhaps one of the most useful technologies in the modern medical practice is the Electronic Health Record, or EHR. Finding one, though, that is best suited to an individual practice, and that is easy to use with multiple time-saving features, while still being a cost-efficient addition to the office environment, can be a challenge. Amazing Charts offers the latest in Electronic Health Record capabilities including easy charting capabilities and templates to maximize provider time, e-Prescribing, better scheduling capabilities, and a patient portal for enhanced communication purposes.
Recognize the Growing Importance of Telehealth in Promoting Patient Care
Based on its continued acceptance during the pandemic as a tool for providing improved levels of virtual care, the AMA is recognizing the value of incorporating telehealth into the independent practice environment. Its Telehealth Immersion Program offers a comprehensive curriculum and enhanced experience navigating the world of telehealth alongside peers nationwide. Modern telehealth solutions, such as those available through Amazing Charts, dramatically increase the ability of your practice to remotely deliver in-home patient care that is comparable to an in-office visit. You and your medical staff can quickly and easily initiate telehealth video and secure text conversations and maintain logs of those chats and videos for billing and audit purposes.
Incorporate Chronic Care Management Techniques
According to a Medical Economics September 2021 article on CCM, six of every ten adults in the United States have at least one chronic condition today, accounting for 90 percent of healthcare expenditures annually. The article asserts that incorporating a dedicated CCM program can provide many financial and operational benefits, regardless of practice size, thus improving outcomes for patients overall. Whether reminding patients to fill prescriptions, providing further follow-up to issues addressed during in-office or virtual appointments, or coordinating mental health check-ins, CCM can fill important gaps between physician visits.
Practice Increasing Practice Efficiency
Proven workflow improvements can increase the efficiency and quality of care, while creating a better workday for everyone in the practice. The STEPS Forward™ program from the AMA offers a collection of engaging and interactive educational toolkits that are practical, actionable guides which help transform and improve your practice. Other tools, like a Virtual Preventative Care Assistant, provide the capability to add external remote care services to your patient care kit by adding remote staff, or contracting out existing staff, to reduce labor costs while maintaining patient continuity. This takes a huge administrative burden off the independent practitioner, while maintaining care levels.
Place Top Priority on Getting Paid
The services you provide as a physician are life-enhancing and often life-saving. You deserve to be compensated properly for your actions. While this is not a top concern for those in hospital care, the independent physician must pay close attention to the essentials of getting paid. Although patient care is always the top priority, revenue cycle management takes care of the business needs of a medical practice, including verifying patient insurance eligibility, submitting claims to insurance providers, and billing patients for their payment obligations. Amazing Charts’ Medical Billing Service provides a fully integrated Revenue Cycle Management system that efficiently handles the billing process for you, and at a more affordable rate than most third-party billers. Your practice could experience an increase in collections, a higher rate of claims paid on first submission, and a quicker time to payment with your payers and patients – all of which are crucial to maintaining a healthy cash flow.
Managing the Patient Experience in the Private Practice
One of the major advantages of the independent practice is its ability to create an outstanding patient experience for those it treats. Patients judge a practice on the quality of care, but also on the way the practice makes them feel. Setting a culture and engaging the team in creating a positive experience is key to maintaining patient and provider satisfaction. Key steps to managing the experience include:
- Assessment of current situation
- Goal setting for future aspirations
- Engagement of staff and patients
- Development and implementation
- Tracking and analysis
- Consistent improvement
Building a positive patient experience is a team effort that requires leadership from the physician at the head of the practice. He or she must show that the practice is dedicated to the goals of providing improved patient care every day, while being open to input and questions. Patients and team members need to have a voice in alerting the physician about areas where the practice is doing well, and where improvements need to be made.
Partnering with patients and team members to gather this information, and developing a unified approach to acting on it, allows independent practices to design services that transform care, enhance patient loyalty, and help the practice to thrive. Most importantly, however, the art of bringing more meaning to the patient journey brings more meaning to the provider experience as well.
Case Studies on Transitioning from Hospital to Independent Practice
“Private practice is alive and kicking and it really, really can thrive. You don’t have to do everything. You just have to find the right partners to help you do all those things. And it can be tremendously rewarding because you can treat patients the way you want to treat them, not the way that somebody else wants you to treat them.”
AMA conducted an interview with Omar Maniya, MD, MBA, an emergency physician who went from the frontlines of the pandemic to family practice, to learn more about what private practices can do to remain successful. Dr. Maniya initially started by helping his doctor mother adjust to the changing needs for telehealth, improved scheduling, and appointment reminders during the pandemic, and then he decided to apply some of those lessons to opening his own practice. In addition to those technologies, he also incorporated remote patient monitoring, and now has 800 patients on connected blood pressure devices and glucometers, so the practice can manage their hypertension and diabetes cases remotely.
In another case, a private practice career let Dr. Christine Sinsky build family freedom and a work/life balance, while keeping the door open to leadership opportunities. Dr. Sinsky advises doctors that they should not be afraid of private practice. “There is a lot of upside to private practice, particularly in the autonomy and control dimensions of your life,” she says. “And those become much more important than compensation over time.”
Owning and operating a private practice can be both rewarding and challenging, as evidenced by the recent HHS decision to allocate $25.5 billion to cover financial losses from COVID-19. These are certainly unique times in the world and in the medical profession, but fortunately there are companies like Amazing Charts, which is dedicated to helping independent practices survive and thrive by providing easy-to-use solutions for delivering patient care that make healthcare more accessible, and more effective.
Healthcare Technology Solutions Designed By and For Independent Practices
Amazing Charts was founded in 2001 by a practicing family physician to help medical practices thrive. We have grown consistently since then by creating easy-to-use solutions for delivering patient care. Today, we offer a variety of additional capabilities designed to help independent practices succeed, including Electronic Health Records, Practice Management, Billing Services, Population Health and Remote Care. Call 866-382-5932 to learn about our products, schedule a practice consultation, and learn more about telehealth pandemic lessons that can help your independent practice grow.