As significant changes continue to reshape the U.S. healthcare system, The Physicians Foundation – a nonprofit organization that seeks to advance the work of practicing physicians and help facilitate the delivery of healthcare to patients – has identified five critical areas that will have major impact on practicing physicians and their patients over the next 12 months. The Physicians Watch List for 2015 is based on the Foundation’s insights into the medical practice landscape, supported by data from its 2014 Biennial Physician Survey of 20,000 physicians and other Foundation research and white papers.
Consolidation Hits the Gas Pedal
An increased rate of consolidation among hospitals and health systems continues to drive smaller, independent medical practices into larger systems. This trend is adversely impacting competition in regions where consolidation is most pronounced, while increasing costs and reducing patient choice. Rapid medical consolidation is also presenting a challenge to clinical autonomy. According to the Foundation’s 2014 Biennial Physician Survey, more than two-thirds of all physicians (69 percent) expressed concerns relative to clinical autonomy and their ability to make the best decisions for their patients. Since the rate of medical consolidation shows no signs of abating, it is imperative that hospitals and physicians work together to ensure that clinical decisions are being made independent of any bureaucratic or organizational pressures that could potentially affect the integrity of medical decision-making.
External Pressures Strain the Physician/Patient Relationship
An inadvertent effect of medical consolidation and the rising emphasis on valued-based payment models is increasing strain on the physician / patient relationship. According to the Foundation’s most recent Biennial Survey, 80 percent of physicians describe patient relationships as the most satisfying factor of practicing medicine. Yet, factors such as growing levels of non-clinical paperwork and rising administrative and regulatory pressures are leading to an erosion of quality face-time physicians are able to spend with their patients.
In addition, these pressures can also limit physicians’ choices in terms of practice type while increasing the amount of time and resources they must spend on negotiating with payers and vendors. As these regulatory and marketplace forces persist, it will be more critical than ever for physicians to identify ways to work with support staff in order to maximize the amount of quality time they are able to spend with their patients.