Private Practice Doctors: The End of an Era?

The monumental cost of student loans from medical school, the effects of the Affordable Care Act, emerging technologies in healthcare, and a desire for better work-life balance have all created a new trend in healthcare. Family doctors are retiring, and young doctors are turning to work at large healthcare organizations rather than battle the world of a small doctor’s office. 

What does this mean? It appears that the days of small family doctor practices are coming to an end. What seems to be especially worrisome is that just as we have many family physicians aging out of the office, more and more Americans are reaching an age that requires more medical care. With not enough young physicians going into the private side of healthcare, we may face a family doctor shortage. “A growing older population – with more frequent physician visits, surgical rates and diagnostic testing per capita – will require a larger physician workforce to make access possible. This challenge will correspond with the challenge created by an aging physician workforce, many of whose members are primed for retirement.”

Unfortunately for those looking to enter the medical field, medical school costs are rising in all states across the nation, Kentucky included. While previous generations could work part-time jobs to help pay for college, that reality is no longer possible. When you add insanely deep debts with years of interning, residencies, and further studies, a doctor’s income barely allows new physicians to pay off their debts – even with higher incomes than most professions. 

For example, tuition for a medical student at the University of Louisville (for 4 years of medical school) is “$272,870 for Kentucky residents and $357,758 for non-residents including living expenses. Tuition at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine hovers around $262,051 for in-state and $380,668 for non-residents, including living expenses.” So when you have some large healthcare organizations offering student loan support, this can be quite appealing to young physicians who are still early in their careers.

“In addition to the payback programs and recruitment strategies offered by large health care providers, becoming an employee also alleviates physicians of the administrative obligations and burdens that are inherent in operating a private practice. But that is not the only factor.”  Not having to work long hours is appealing to younger generations who are seeking a better work-life balance, which is another factor healthcare organizations highlight for recruiting purposes. 

The Affordable Care Act and requirements for filing medical records electronically have also made being a private practice physician extremely expensive. Both entail administrative and IT costs a young physician may not be able to afford. According to Dr. Joseph M. Flynn, Norton Medical Group chief administrative officer and physician-in-chief at the Norton Cancer Institute, “Providing care is no longer about doing the work and sending a bill. There is so much more that comes along with running a medical practice independently.” 

This end of an era, from private practice to large healthcare systems, is mainly a consequence of economics, new technologies, and medical insurance. We’ll likely see more and more physicians heading to larger organizations. Hopefully this trend will provide those in the medical world with the balance of life they are looking for. As with all systems, healthcare must evolve to meet the challenges of changing conditions and expectations.

Information Sourced From Lane Report