The announcement by KLAS Research this week of NextGen Healthcare as the winner of the “Best in KLAS” award in the Small Practice PM/EMR segment affords the opportunity to speculate on the future of small practices. Much has been made in recent years of the trend away from physician-owned practices. Headlines from the last AMA physician survey were focused on the milestone of employed physicians surpassing the 50% mark for the first time. A corollary to that trend has been the steady move toward larger practices. In fact, that same survey reported a 12.5% drop since 2012 in the percent of physicians in small group practice. With the rise in alternative payment models shifting financial risk to providers, the increasing administrative complexity of healthcare, and the generational shift toward balance between family and career, it’s not surprising that many clinicians seek the predictability and security of employment.
Small Practices Still Dominant
In the news, that story overshadows a larger truth. The majority of physicians in the U.S., 53.7%, still practice in those small groups of ten or less. And these small group practices predominantly consist of five or fewer providers. NextGen, in fact, has thousands of licensed providers using its small practice solution, NextGen® Office (NGO). While recent trends suggest these numbers will continue to decline, there is reason to be hopeful that small practices will survive and, perhaps, thrive in the coming years.
Digital Infrastructure Is the Norm
For the overwhelming majority of physicians today, working in a digital environment has become the standard of care. According to a 2019 National Electronic Health Records Survey, 89% of office-based physicians are using an EHR. While the EHR by itself does not ensure success for small practices, it is a critical foundation to enable access to information and resources from throughout the healthcare ecosystem. Small practices can take advantage of feeds from health information exchanges (HIEs) and can connect to services such as revenue cycle management that optimize health plan reimbursement while also relieving the small practice from significant administrative burden.
Interoperability Unlocks Opportunities
Government requirements combined with integrated solutions such as NextGen’s NGO are accelerating the realization of true interoperability. With a seamless flow of information within their practice and throughout a patient’s entire journey, small practices can be an efficient and effective component of the large and complex healthcare ecosystem. Eliminating the isolation of a small practice means those providers can see all relevant information about their patient at the point of care and participate as a member of that patient’s overall care team, but maintain their autonomy as a small practice.
Price Transparency Elevates the Role of Small Practices
Along with interoperability, price transparency will provide small practices with information they need to direct patients to the most cost-effective care. For several years, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) have been placing increasing pressure on providers and health plans to provider greater price transparency. As an example, in the fall of 2020 they announced a plan to require health plans to demonstrate increasing levels of transparency over the next four years. These changes combined with interoperability rules will significantly strengthen the ability of small group practices to drive value by directing their patient to the most cost-effective services that complement their own. That means that small practices will be well-positioned to participate in value-based payment arrangements.
Patient Reported Outcomes and the Rebirth of the Small Group Practice
If and when patient-reported outcomes become the standard for measuring quality in healthcare, then physicians in any practice, large or small, will be able to demonstrate their own value, even as they more effectively help their patients navigate the larger healthcare landscape. Despite recent, substantial movement toward large physician groups, the combination of a robust, interoperable digital infrastructure, price transparency, and patient-reported outcomes might just create a renaissance in small group practice.
Learn more about NextGen Healthcare’s small office solutions here.
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