Physicians Show Optimism and Resolve in 2016
By Ken Comée
Delivering high-quality healthcare while simultaneously maintaining a profitable practice remains a tough challenge for physicians across the country. Evolving reimbursement requirements and a constantly shifting industry landscape pull physicians away from patient care and leave them overwhelmed by administrative tasks. However, for the third consecutive year, CareCloud surveyed more than 5,000 physicians in our annual Practice Profitability Index and, for the first time, the survey has revealed a rise in optimism. The PPI shows that there is an increasing number of physicians who expect to grow profits or at least hold the line against losses in the year ahead, which is good news for everyone!
The PPI also shows that, while physicians are facing numerous challenges, they are taking proactive steps to counter them and manage their practices more effectively. Physicians once again cited declining reimbursement and rising costs as their top challenges for the coming year, with 62 percent saying they are worried about reimbursement decreases, and 55 percent reporting concern about rising costs. Physicians also indicated that administrative tasks take a heavy toll on efficiency, with more than 60 percent saying paperwork consumes their time by as much as a day or more each week. While that figure declined year over year, the impact remains significant. In fact, while fewer physicians with an ownership stake in their practices are looking to sell than in previous years, among the 35 percent of physician-owners who are looking to sell or merge, excessive administrative work is the top factor, with 40 percent citing it.
It’s worth noting, however, that the PPI survey also shows that physicians aren’t throwing their hands up in the face of industry pressures, but rather, implementing new processes and technology to boost practice performance: 40 percent report prioritizing improvements to billing and collections processes, 34 percent to staffing and 33 percent to technology. And given that only two in five physicians say their current staff, technology and/or processes are effective at securing reimbursement — a finding that indicates virtually no improvement on past survey results — it makes sense that doctors are focusing on billing processes.
How are physicians handling the skills and technology gaps that are hampering operations? According to the PPI, the “rip and replace” strategy — in which physicians overhaul core health IT systems, particularly EHR systems — remains a popular option. Many are investing in new systems to help them manage their practices more effectively, with nearly a quarter indicating that they plan to replace an existing EHR system or purchase one for the first time. Like their counterparts in other business sectors, physicians are also looking to bolster analytics capabilities, with one in four looking to analytics to boost performance and 13 percent indicating they plan to invest specifically in a new analytics solution.
At its core, the “rip and replace” trend reflects the fact that physicians are not settling for antiquated EHR and PM systems that can burden their practices with cumbersome workflows and heavy costs. Instead, they’re pulling these systems out and putting more modern solutions in their place – solutions that not only streamline workflow, but can also sync with other technologies in use at the practice. In fact, the PPI reveals that lack of integration with other technologies is the biggest drawback to current solutions, with almost 40 percent of those switching systems citing it as the primary reason. The need to find solutions that are easier to use – driving efficiency rather than slowing users down – and more cost-effective are also among the top factors driving replacement.
The survey also highlights positive industry developments for practice performance from the physician perspective. They expressed the most enthusiasm for opportunities to engage with patients and peers in new ways. In fact, more than one in five doctors cited patient engagement programs like portals and disease management programs as positive developments. About the same number said they saw promise in new alliances with other healthcare professionals, such as through mergers or the addition of ancillary services.
While it’s too soon to tell if 2016 will turn out to be a noteworthy year for physician profitability trends, the results of this third annual PPI survey show that many physicians are proactively addressing key areas in their business. Whether it’s shoring up revenue cycle management processes, investing in new technology or embracing new patient engagement tools, these survey results show that physicians are not settling for the status quo. That’s good news for physicians, patients, and the industry as a whole.
Ken Comée is CEO at CareCloud in Miami.