American physicians are beginning to find new ways to attract patients while providing more efficient quality of care. One of the most exciting, and growing, avenues is through establishing an online practice. There are several reasons why an online medical practice is becoming more appealing to primary care physicians and patients. We’ve concentrated on a few.
Without a doubt, the major reason physicians are beginning to look toward establishing a more manageable, online practice is very simple: burnout. A Medscape survey shows that one in four physicians are considering leaving their clinical practice; and, a national survey cites an alarming 53% burnout rate. Reasons for this exodus to an online practice may be simply explained as too few physicians caring for too many patients. One of the largest demographics requiring healthcare services is the Baby Boomer generation. It’s been estimated that the over 65 patient population will exceed 55% by 2030, while the number of physicians will decrease by 100,000 doctors during the same time period. Older patients require more frequent and complex care; thus, demanding more of a physician’s time and attention. Physicians operating out of a clinical practice setting may have an incredible patient load upwards of 2,000 and physicians can typically only devote approximately 10-15 minutes with each patient. It’s little wonder primary care physicians burn out and look for a more workable environment in which to practice.
The American Association of Family Practice cited five results of physician burnout ranging from patient satisfaction survey results, physician and staff turnover in group practices, increased (or fear of) medical errors and malpractice risks, substance abuse, and most alarmingly, physician suicide. Telltale symptoms of burnout involve exhaustion, feelings of doubt and lack of purpose, and emotional unavailability.
The same article lists causes of burnout to include: stresses of running a traditional clinical practice, an unhealthy work-life balance, professional stressors (compensation, reimbursement, etc.), insufficient training in medical school to cope with the demands of a clinical practice, and practice groups expanding services without enough physicians to provide those services.
Burn out won’t magically be corrected by opening an online physician practice, but it does offer the benefits of helping physicians better manage their own time, reduce patient load and allow more time to concentrate on their patients.
Changing Patient Demographics
The older medical model of traveling to a doctor’s office or ER for minor complaints is going to be an exception, rather than the rule, in the future.
Online physicians have greater, and quicker, access to their patients through smartphones and video chats; and, both physicians and patients benefit from more concise services for non-urgent care. As the concept of online medical services grows in popularity in the U.S., physicians will find patients more willing to consult online doctors.
Mobile Health News, in a 2017 survey, cited that 78% of Americans surveyed were interested in online physician services, with 76% wanting to have follow-up appointments conducted online, and 70% wish to have electronic access to physicians for non-emergent care.
While it may be more difficult for the Baby Boomer generation to access, or accept online healthcare, that’s not the case with the Millenial population (ages 20-36) and Generation X (ages 36-51) who, Pew Research Center, projects will become the predominant demographics. Millenials are expected to outpace Baby Boomers in 2019, with Generation X overtaking Boomers by 2028.
The latter age groups, more at ease with advanced technologies, are more likely to accept online physician consultations than their parents and grandparents. They are more prone to seek out medical information online and seek care by using technology. This growing group of healthcare consumers is less willing to experience long waiting periods for appointments and/or to spend time in a doctor’s office for relatively minor complaints. Forward-thinking physicians, recognize this patient demographic as an opportunity to provide online, quality patient care and develop a solid, medical practice.
If we drill down to why someone becomes a physician, we’ll probably find the greatest reason is a desire to help people. However, factors such as too many patients, too much red tape, and too little time, influence physicians seek more effective ways to communicate with and treat their patients. Physician frustration with patients who often schedule unnecessary doctor visits (more for reassurance than actual illness), requesting unneeded medications (i.e., antibiotics for a cold or treatment for a rash) and/or just don’t show up for appointments is a constant aggravation for doctors. Online consultations significantly reduce this drain on physicians’ time by handling medical simple medical issues via phone, email, text or video chat, while still providing a quality standard of care.
Costs and Reimbursement
Sooner or later, it all comes to down to costs. The financial burden of opening and maintaining a brick and mortar practice is substantial. Nationally, the average cost for opening a physician practice ranges from $70,000-$100,000, which includes staffing costs, space rental, equipment purchase or leasing, computer equipment and software, insurance, etc. Joining a physician group practice may be cheaper, but comes with its own set of issues and problems.
Establishing an online physician practice costs approximately 25% less than a traditional practice and offers significant reductions in monthly overhead costs. Online physician groups are emerging which provide physicians a sense of community; and, offer practice services such as billing and reimbursement, maintaining Electronic Patient Records on the Cloud, etc.
Legislation passed in 2018 expanded the ability of Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) increased reimbursement tables for online medical services allowing online doctors to see more patients. This also is an enticement for private insurers to cover the less expensive, but equally efficacious, online medical care. As reimbursement increases, so may the number of online doctor practices.
Physicians don’t have to go it alone to establish an online presence for healthcare. Telemedicine companies and networks are continuing to expand nationwide. According to the Telemedicine Association, there are currently over 200 telemedicine networks and an excess of 3,000 service sites operating in the U.S. today. These networks provide physicians with the ability to control their own schedule, manage reimbursements, provide business and computer support which free physicians to concentrate on patient care and make better use of their time.
The points listed here are hardly exhaustive. The reasons physicians are leaving traditional practices, or healthcare altogether, are as varied as there are physicians. What is evident is that the future of combining medical care with personal technology is rapidly growing in the U.S. and providing physicians with greater options to create their ideal practice.