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Time to throw in the towel on private practice…or is it?

Posted Mar 26 2010 5:07pm

I don’t buy it.

An article in the New York Times today titled, “ More Doctors Giving Up Private Practices ,” told the story of an increasing number of physicians who are finding their “bliss” through employed, salaried positions, rather than at the helm of their own private practice.  The reason – increased costs, decreased pay, and ultimately unhappier doctors in the private practice environment.  Again, I don’t buy it.

The article spoke of the increasing financial burden on physicians who, in order to keep up with the demands of today’s healthcare arena, must invest heavily into expensive electronic medical record systems (EMR) and practice management softare (PMS), along with the staff required to collect payment from a growing number of patients who lack the financial wherewithal to pay their bills.  Sure, the challenges are real, but it’s still bullhonkey.

The silver lining in this shift toward larger, safer, and inevitably more monopolized healthcare practice – if there is one – the article goes on to say, is the continuum of care that is far facilitated by larger, more integrated systems which employ large numbers of physicians from a variety of specialties.  Not convinced.

The Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) reports - according to the article - that in 2005 more than 67% of medical practices were physician owned, however three short years later this number had dropped to below 50%.  With admitedly disturbing facts such as this, and the industry knowledge that is near and dear to my heart – that private practice owners are, in fact, struggling in pockets across the country – how could I possibly scoff at the fact that an article in the New York Times suggests that quite possibly it is time to throw in the towel by the physician masses?

Because it’s short sighted, cowardly, and undermines the creative and entrepreneurial fabric from which many of our country’s greatest practices are woven.

In a nutshell, it’s the wrong way to go.

I’ve been around healthcare my entire life, and my professional career has known nothing else.  I care deeply about people, and understand that passion, freedom, autonomy, and creativity are the inspiration behind the greatest care that our country can offer.  I also understand that in order to attain autonomy, passion, freedom, and creativity requires risk, hard work, and often times, failure.

I’ve worked salaried positions and have spent much of my life in a risk averse bubble, looking fondly at the status quo and fearing anything that risked upsetting it.

But I’ve also lived the other side.  The side that guarantees nothing, but promises everything.  The side that allows me to be exactly who I’ve been created to be, and to relish in failure as it is a means by which I will improve my service to others.  It is this side about which I am passionate, and about which I know I can change my life, the lives of others, and through my current mission with Vantage Clinical Solutions, change healthcare.

I don’t think the healthcare industry is going to benefit from bigger companies who can promise the world to its salaried professionals, while placing handcuffs on the passion and creativity that comes only with the ability to chart one’s own professional course.  I don’t think the continuity of care is going to suffer if small town doctors have to refer to one another rather than down the hall in order to provide the specialty care that is needed of their patients.  And I don’t think that failure is inevitable to those who try to make it work.

There are challenges, yes.  We, at Vantage Clinical Solutions help private practice owners deal with them everyday.  We feel the pressures of the economy just like the next guy.  The difference is that we see the challenges as an opportunity to look to entrepreneurship , creativity, and innovation as the tool from which our problems will be fixed.

We understand that the “corporate” way which benefits from huge economies of scale and infrastructural efficiencies does indeed have merit – but more importantly we know that it is not the only answer.  We work with numerous private practice owners every day who are delivering healthcare their way, doing it profitably, and changing their patients’ lives in the process.

At the risk of belaboring my diatribe of a post, I do want to make clear that I understand that entrepreneurship indeed is not for everyone, and the thousands upon thousands of professional, caring, and excellent healthcare providers who do thrive in the corporate, structured environment, need not change a thing.  Indeed, consolidation and centralization is a viable solution to many of the challenges we face in the healthcare industry.

My point, however, is to suggest that it is not the only solution, and to those who’s fuel does come from a burning passion to create, be different, and deliver care in their own way – bear down and get after it.

The system that the NY Times article speaks of is not for you.

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