The financial pressure is on for physicians to get compensated not just fairly, but well, at their practices, and Shawn Harkey's medical group is no different.
"We definitely keep a close eye on both fixed and variable components," says Harkey, the financial services director of Texas Retina, an ophthalmology practice with 13 locations in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. "Medicare payments aren't necessarily increasing and we're fighting that battle because the high majority of our patients are over [the age of] 60. That's forcing us to become leaner, more efficient in providing patient care."
Harkey's practice, which has been using its NextGen EHR for six years and its accompanying practice management system for three years, has already seen improved efficiency (physicians can see patients in a more timely manner) and a reduction in overhead costs, such as paper, storage, and staff time spent manually pulling charts.
Today, the practice is also using its Navicure claims clearinghouse technology to verify patient insurance in advance of appointments to avoid a cash-flow slowdown.
"We see a high volume of patients every day so we make sure we have everything checked, such as benefits and referrals, and we use a number of high-cost drugs so we can make sure there's no issues in place with payers," says Harkey.
The state of physician pay is not only changing, but it is also challenging, as Harkey and our annual Physician Compensation Survey respondents would attest. But by taking a proactive approach — taking stock of the trends and seeking new ways to maximize compensation — physicians can not only stay alive, but they can also thrive, financially.
The state of physician compensation
Today's physicians are under increasing pressure to make money and see more patients.
While more than two-thirds of the 1,474 physicians who answered our survey told us their income is, to some degree or entirely, tied to productivity, just one-third of physicians said their income is tied, at least in part, to value-based metrics. Twenty-four percent of physicians told us their income relies in part on patient satisfaction.
"[Value-based reimbursement] is growing at a small level, and the reason is that there is not funding available for it," says Kenneth Hertz, a Medical Group Management Association healthcare consultant."If you're earning $250,000 per year and your practice wants to put in place this value-based reimbursement, quality metrics, and other performance metrics, the practice will need to secure additional funds to pay you. Right now, the payers are not providing additional significant dollars to do this. In most cases, practices are having to carve out a pool of money from the current funds available to pay physicians, and then pay those that meet the quality metrics out of that pool."
Regardless of the basis of their payment, more than half of docs in this year's survey — 53 percent — said they were either "slightly" or "highly" disappointed with their income.
"I think there are financial pressures [such as] the changing payment models, the increase in expenses, the reduction in reimbursement in practices," says Hertz. "If you're in private practice you're seeing your expenses go up, and you're seeing reimbursements go down."
Today, many specialists are making more while primary-care physicians are staying flat, income-wise, adds Tommy Bohannon, divisional vice president of recruiting at Merritt Hawkins, a physician staffing agency.