New Survey Indicates Independent Medical Practices Fared Better Than Expected During COVID-19 Pandemic

better days ahead caption

Cunningham Group take: This is great news for the independent physician and those hospital-employed physicians that are interested in opening up their own medical practice. We are hearing the same type of positive feedback from our clients all over the country. We will be announcing a new intiative soon to help our clients’ practices grow and thrive. We’ll keep everyone posted!

A new survey of independent medical practices across the United States indicates independent practices “feel stronger, resilient and positive about the future of their practice and the industry.”

The 2021 State of the Independent Practice report from medical software provider Kareo, in partnership with the University of Georgia’s Consumer Analytics Program, gathered responses from more than 1,300 independent practices across 50 specialties. Of the survey participants, 35% of the practices were a single provider, 38% had two to five providers and 27% had six or more providers. Just under half of participating practices were general practice, family practice or internal medicine. Another 27% were mental health providers, and 21% of practices reported their practice type as “other,” representing 50 different specialties.

Because the semi-annual report was last published in 2019, the results give a look at how the attitudes of independent practices have changed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The results reveal a far more optimistic, dynamic and growth-oriented prediction for independent practices than could have been predicted at the beginning of 2020.

Improved Confidence in the Future

A December 2020 Pulse Study conducted by Kareo found that more than 39% of independent practices were closed from zero to four weeks in 2020 due to the pandemic, while 24% were closed five to eight weeks, 12% were closed nine to 12 weeks, 8% were closed 13 to 16 weeks and 16% were closed more than 16 weeks. Yet, according to the 2021 Independent Practice report, more than half of all independent practices emerged from 2020 with the same number of patient visits (22%) or larger (29%) than in 2019.

Seventy-five percent of independent practices reported they expect to grow in the near future. This was a significant increase over 2019 results, in which only 59% expected growth. And practices expecting to shrink fell to less than half of the 2019 findings (6% in 2021 versus 14% in 2019).

Survey respondents considered acquiring new patients (54%), getting patient referrals (50%) and recurring visits (48%) the most important initiatives to their future growth.

Expectations for Partnership Change

The 2019 report found 31% of independent practices wanting to align with another practice or hospital, while 65% were not interested in any mergers. Two years later, the desire to remain independent increased — with only 11% of respondents looking to align with another practice or hospital.

According to the 2021 report, there was also a significant decrease in the percentage of independent practices expecting changes in existing partnerships — from 43% in 2019 to 14% in 2021. This observation was true for merging with, or disassociating from, a hospital and merging with another practice.

Telehealth Engagement Explodes

The 2019 Independent Practice report revealed 22% of independent practices had adopted telehealth capability. This year’s report shows that number has skyrocketed to 80%. Twenty-seven percent of respondents reported that more than 75% of their patient encounters are currently conducted through telehealth, and the reported importance of telehealth to independent practice increased by 22 points, from 21% in 2019 to 43% in 2021.

Renewed Focus on Delivery of Quality Care

According to the 2021 Independent Practice report, 71% of respondents reported that improving delivery of care is extremely important to their practice, up from 50 % in 2019. Other initiatives reported as critical to future success include insurance reimbursements (58%), patient engagement (52%), practice growth (50%) and patient collections (48%).

When it comes to improving the delivery of care, 58% of respondents say that security and compliance is important, while 55% cited streamlining their care delivery workflow to allow them more time with electronic health records as important. Fifty-five percent cited the importance of point-of-care documentation, and 46% said improving diagnosis and reducing diagnostic error are important to their practice.

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