New Technologies Help Small Practices Curb Losses

January 14, 2011

A new survey reveals the costs of running a medical practice and insurance reimbursement concerns are keeping docs up at night more than other issues. The good news? Physicians are optimistic about new technology.

Are physicians making more money than they were in 2009?

If you believe Practice Fusion, an EHR provider that recently surveyed 100 small- to mid-size practices for its “2011 State of the Small Practice” study, more doctors say they’re doing worse financially (41 percent) than better (26 percent). Thirty-one percent of physicians said they’re doing about the same.

Now, of course, when reading surveys like these it’s important to consider a couple of things: First, the survey was done by a vendor, Practice Fusion, which is touting its free EHR system. Second, only 100 practices were surveyed. Still, the numbers do seem to be in line with industry trends.
 

According to Practice Fusion’s survey, the costs of running a medical practice and insurance reimbursement concerns are keeping docs up at night more than other issues. When asked to report their practice's top negative pressures and positive trends in a series of open-ended questions, 31 percent of docs surveyed highlighted issues relating to practice administration as their top concern. Insurance and reimbursement was the biggest concern for 26 percent of respondents, and difficult patients gave 11 percent of respondents the most grief.

"Small primary-care medical practices are the backbone of the U.S. healthcare system," said Ryan Howard, CEO of Practice Fusion, in a press statement. "These are family doctors on the front lines, they're passionate about caring for their patients and our survey indicates that they're struggling.”

The big ray of sunshine, as you probably guessed, is new technology. According to the study, 59 percent of physicians reported new technology has made things easier for their medical practice. And that’s easy to believe when you look at key 2010 trends such as the rise of mobile health technology and useful m-health applications, a rise in doctor-patient e-mails, and an increase in practices that use an EHR.

New high-tech medical equipment that’s linked with higher reimbursement rates (and better patient outcomes) has also, no doubt, made physicians’ lives easier.

We hope this trend will continue, as other financial issues loom.

For one, our Fee Schedule surveys show reimbursements remaining static while other costs continue to rise. Data for commercial reimbursement for new and existing patient visits reveals the average increase in payments by commercial payers is only 1.4 percent from the prior year. Government reimbursement continues to lag commercial rates, although by narrower margins.

Can technologies like EHRs, web portals, mobile devices, and e-prescribing increase physicians practices productivity enough to make up the difference? What do you think?