More Physicians Go Solo To Address Primary Care Decline
The Wall Street Journal on Friday examined how a "small but growing number of physicians" have begun "converting to high-tech, low-overhead practices" -- or "micropractices" -- to "counter a sustained decline in primary care medicine." The number of primary care physicians in the U.S. has decreased by about 50% during the past 10 years, according to a series of surveys conducted by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
In addition, the inflation-adjusted average income of primary care physicians has decreased by 10% over the past eight years, as the average income of specialists has remained about the same, according to a series of surveys conducted by the Center for Studying Health System Change. The HSC surveys also found that the incomes of primary care physicians in 2003 were about one-third less than those of most specialists.
In response, some physicians are "trying to harness technology to make family practices more manageable and profitable," the Journal reports. The Journal profiled Gordon Moore, a physician who left a medical practice owned by a hospital to begin a micropractice.
Moore said that his overhead costs account for 35% of his revenue. Overhead costs account for an average 60% of revenue for other small, primary care group practices, according to the Medical Group Management Association.
In addition, Moore said that about 70% of patients who recently completed an online survey titled "How's Your Health" are satisfied with the quality and timeliness of the care he provides. According to the same survey, about 30% of patients nationwide are satisfied with the quality and timeliness of care their physicians provide.
However, most physicians who "take the plunge" and begin micropractices "initially find it hard to sign up patients," and many "make less money than they did before," the Journal reports.
Gary Seto, a physician who left Kaiser Permanente in 2004 to begin a micropractice, recently wrote in his blog, SoloDoc, that his practice remained unprofitable for two years and that his income largely has decreased. "That's the trade-off," he wrote, adding, "But it's much more enjoyable to me and my patients" (Naik, Wall Street Journal, 2/23).