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Why Independent Providers Are Resurging in the Medical Industry

Why Independent Providers Are Resurging in the Medical Industry
Image credit: Courtesy of PatientPop

In 1983, more than three-fourths of physicians practicing medicine owned their own practices. Three decades later, it seems the medical profession is undergoing a radical shift, and one that may not be ideal for the industry. Today, the number of independent practitioners is falling steadily. 2016 marked the first time in history that most of the medical field is not self-employed.

This represents a radical departure from the status quo, and one which could seriously disrupt the industry and the ability of individuals to find the right care for them. Independent providers play a crucial, if sometimes under-appreciated role, in the medical field.

A study in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine found that in several areas (especially the rural zones of the US), individual practitioners are the only actual physician operating in an area in nearly half the cases reported. Moreover, independent practitioners also represent a choice for consumers who are not tied down to structures like Medicare or insurance limitations to find their healthcare.

However, emerging trends—like the Affordable Care Act and broader demographic changes, for instance—mean that independent practitioners have fallen behind and face significantly greater barriers

Those in the field believe that incorporating technology is vital. PatientPop CEO and Co-founder Luke Kervin notes that “Independent practitioners today find themselves in a competitive environment where search algorithms often determine the winners and losers.” In this new challenging market, “Practices that adopt technology to optimize their online presence can get the competitive edge they need to succeed online and successfully grow their practice.”

PatientPop offers a variety of patient and presence management tools that help attract more patients, better manage online interactions, and improve search results. Additionally, the company offers reputation management features and backend tools that improve overall patient experiences from start to finish.

As technology advances, independent practitioners and practice owners can still find a solid footing thanks to new, and better, tools.  This way, they can maintain the independence they treasure, and continue providing a valuable service even in the face of a changing landscape.

The Dilemma of Independence

Increasingly, doctors who are looking to remain independent have fewer avenues to maintain their freedom. The industry has changed significantly in a relatively short time, and it has forced some rethinking of the way doctors must approach their practice. For example, the ACA, which loaded the healthcare system with an additional 20 million individuals, led many physicians to opt out of their private work in favor of joining a hospital system to ease their administrative burden.

Moreover, finding a steady stream of clients to fill work hours is a growing challenge for many physicians. For most practices, doctors are used to working within a narrow scope of the field which may place them at a disadvantage—after all, some health problems are rarer than others. This is also tied into issues that deal directly with the technology and tools they are forced to use.

A recent study found that some physicians spend as much as half their time with patients looking at EHRs, and many others show that increasingly, technology is a vital part of the consumer experience even in healthcare. This manifests in a few ways, but relevantly, it breaks down into the ways technology limits or expands patients’ face-time with doctors, and the way patients find their physicians. In both cases, poor technology can seriously hamper an independent practitioner’s ability to get and keep patients.

All these issues result in a landscape that is increasingly pushing physicians into joining larger organizations and networks, or simply giving up their independence in favor of a more stable, but more constrictive employment.

How Technology Can Keep Independent Practitioners Alive

In many other industries, technology has become the great equalizer. In marketing, for instance, the ability to create entire campaigns from scratch in minutes has generated a thriving ecosystem of independent contractors who offer their services and can survive on their own. The real question for medical professionals is how to best deploy the technology to improve their practices.

Indeed, an online presence is becoming a crucial component for many physicians’ long-term survival. In our increasingly mobile and digital world, most consumers judge businesses and providers on their online manifestation. A 2018 survey found that 72% of people use reviews as the first step in their online research for providers.

Even more—at 82%—say they use online review websites to learn about or comment on healthcare staff. In this regard, tools like PatientPop provide a welcome respite for physicians who may not be the tech-savviest. These platforms offer online identity management, letting physicians improve their indexing on search engines and manage their reputation on online review websites

More importantly, perhaps, technology is not only useful when looking for a physician. Many patients note that the experience they have when attempting to book an appointment or interact with private practices matters. Per a study from insurance giant Aetna, 37% of patients said having better online tools to communicate with physicians would increase the likelihood of them booking an appointment.

This also extends to passive communications such as email and SMS reminders, appointment notes, and other tools to help create more loyalty. Using back-end tools that can automate these processes helps reduce lost patients and ensures that those who sign up will continue to use physicians for their primary care

The Importance of Tech Empowerment

For physicians, technology represents a two-edged blade. On one hand, it creates exposure for their practice and gives them a broader reach. However, if not properly managed, it can greatly harm them and drive them further from independence. Moreover, having better care helps guarantee that they can continue operating independently and resisting the waves of conglomeration sweeping the industry.

In fact, many healthcare organizations have been openly embracing tech-based solutions to improve their services. An end-of-year survey revealed that more than two thirds of health care providers are using technology to improve their consumer experiences. For independent physicians, this empowerment goes beyond simple upgrades in booking. By using the right tech and tools, they can continue thriving while providing a crucial service for their communities, and keep their independence as well.

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