Technology and the aging of medical practices

Doctor

I know I’ve dated myself when I mention “Marcus Welby” and get a blank stare back.

For those in the millennial demographic reading this article, let’s just say that Welby was the epitome of the family doctor on television in the 1970s. To many of us, when Dr. Welby retired at the end of the series, it was like losing a weekly house call. (By the way, I’ve also found that the term “house call,” as it relates to healthcare, does not compute in the new millennium.)

Not just on TV but in real-life, the Welby-esque doctors who own private practices are approaching retirement age. And it’s happening at the same time healthcare technology is getting more sophisticated.

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, “for all specialty categories, physician retirement decisions are projected to have the greatest impact on supply, and over one-third of all currently active physicians will be 65 or older within the next decade.”

Physicians between ages 65 and 75 account for 11% of the active workforce, and those between ages 55 and 64 make up nearly 26% of the active workforce.

Add to these numbers the fact that thousands of hometown private practices are now being acquired by large providers to form extensive physician networks around the country — and you have a tough situation for many physicians today. They’re facing a serious decision about spending the golden years in their own practice or being employed by a provider network.

According to a study conducted jointly by Capko & Morgan and MedData Group, a majority of those surveyed feel that private practices offer physicians the most satisfying career opportunities. And I’ve heard anecdotes of physicians looking for advice on how to get out of a provider model to return to the physician-owned practice.

There are plenty of reasons why physicians might want to return to the cozy private practice: independence and regimentation, ego. But the proliferation of healthcare technology can definitely play a major role.

While electronic medical records and payer interfaces can be as important at the private-practice level as the enterprise level, the sheer magnitude of the platforms required within major providers — and the stringent internal policies related to how physicians use them — have sent some physicians back to a simpler life. In other cases, when they’ve had a taste of corporate medicine and their fill of running their own business, they simply decide to retire.

Some of the newer research tries to dispel the myth that doctors are leaving private practice because of the burdens of Obamacare. While most physicians indeed feel burdened by the bureaucracy brought on by ACA, the drivers for leaving the profession and retirement seem related to “natural causes” more than regulatory issues.

RELATED LINKS

Healthcare industry still concerned about medical device hacking

The connected healthcare ecosystem: Integrating medicine, data and IT

Introducing the born-digital hospital

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