Medical professionals in the current healthcare climate are faced with four major challenges affecting their public perception:
1. Narrow ACA networks
While insurance networks provided under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) are created and managed entirely by the third-party payers that offer them, physicians are bearing the brunt of the public discord. Patients who switch, either by choice or through an employer, from an insurance policy provided on the private market to one provided through the health insurance marketplace, are often finding that even though the name of the insurance company hasn’t changed their current providers are no longer in their network. These narrow networks have severed long-established provider-patient relationships and forced new ones.
2. Physician Burnout
With a small number of providers saddled with the majority of the newly insured, physician burnout, an already existing phenomenon, has the potential to grow. The current medical education curriculum focuses primarily on the development of a physician’s clinical skills and rarely, if at all, provides any practical education on social development for their own well-being. Their stress, coupled with very limited down time, can lead to burnout, causing more mistakes and a sour bedside manner.
3. Consumers lack of ability to determine “quality” doctors
Oddly, though the Internet has connected more people to more information, consumers still lack the information they need to identify quality doctors. According to a recent poll by the Associated Press — NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, fewer people than anticipated trust information from online patient reviews, commercial insurers, ratings sites, and the media. Unexpectedly, the Internet has also devalued the institution, as individuals are less impressed by long-respected hospital networks and are thus less likely to seek their care on reputation alone. Additionally, there is a disconnect between the patient’s definition of quality, which is based on their perception of the amount of time and attention they receive from a provider, and the healthcare community’s definition, which is based on clinical outcomes.
4. Public release of financial and quality data
Finally, the recent release of Medicare physician payments and the anticipated quality reporting data from the PQRS program may be misleading to the general public. Providers with million dollar receipts from Medicare have been unfairly judged, as much of those receipts are for multiple doctors billed under a single provider. Additionally, PQRS data is reported primarily through a series of G-codes via claim submission, bringing into question the reliability of the data.
These four challenges have the unfortunate ability to largely overshadow professional accomplishments, board certifications and industry accolades.
How then, after spending a decade or more honing their clinical skills, can a healthcare provider effectively establish his or her professional brand?
According to the poll by the Associated Press — NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, over half of respondents prefer doctor recommendations from good-old-fashioned family, friends, and referrals from their regular primary-care physician.
Until the anticipated transition to reimbursement by quality measures, physicians and other healthcare providers can build upon their network of trusted colleagues and loyal patients.