As 2014 drew to a close, The Physicians Foundation, a not-for-profit organization that advances the work of physicians in practice, released the 2015 version of its biennial Physician Watch List.
The list, which is summarized in a Dec. 15 press release(www.physiciansfoundation.org) from the organization, highlights issues that likely confound, provoke and frustrate family physicians daily as they care for patients around the country.
The 2015 list is based on data gleaned from the foundation's 2014 biennial survey report(www.physiciansfoundation.org), which was released in September. Merritt Hawkins, a leading physician search and consulting firm, conducted the survey of 20,000 physicians(www.physiciansfoundation.org) on which the report was based.
The List Revealed
And now -- drumroll, please -- how many family physicians can relate to the top five issues on physicians' minds this year as determined by The Physicians Foundation? The topics are listed in no particular order.
- The Physicians Foundation's 2015 Physician Watch List identifies five areas most likely to impact physicians and patients this year.
- The list is based on data gleaned from the foundation's 2014 biennial survey.
- Authors expounded on practice consolidation, external strains, ICD-10 implementation, transparency around the cost of health care services and patient access to physicians.
- Consolidation among hospitals and health systems has enticed a number of independent physicians to join larger systems. And that translates into fewer of those small independent practices that often are owned and operated by family physicians. According to watch list authors, that trend hurts competition, increases costs and limits patients' choices when it comes to choosing a physician. It also leaves physicians concerned that they are losing autonomy, along with "their ability to make the best decisions for their patients," wrote the authors.
- Face time with patients -- and patient relationships in general -- rank high among physicians when it comes to the enjoyment practice brings them. Yet today's world of medicine is filled with paperwork, administrative tasks and seemingly unending government regulations that usurp physicians' clinical time and rob them of that patient interaction. "As these regulatory and marketplace forces persist, it will be more critical than ever for physicians to identify ways to work with support staff in order to maximize the amount of quality time they are able to spend with their patients," wrote the authors.
- The ICD-10 code set for outpatient diagnostic coding is coming, and soon. The compliance date is set for Oct. 1, and half of all respondents to the foundation's survey said implementation would cause "severe administrative problems" in their practices. Indeed, 75 percent of survey respondents said ICD-10 would "unnecessarily complicate coding." Nonetheless, the report's authors urge physicians to take steps now to ensure they are ready for the transition so they will avoid cash flow disruption and lost revenue.
- The lack of transparency regarding the cost of medical care -- and the difference in the cost of care provided in hospitals or hospital systems versus medical practices -- frustrates physicians and patients alike. "The lack of uniformity and consistency in how certain procedures are priced erodes the ability of physicians to make the best clinical decisions for patients," wrote the authors. They called for a "straightforward and understandable" system of cost transparency.
- Patient access to physician care "presents a formidable challenge to the health care system in 2015 and beyond," wrote the authors, especially in light of millions of newly insured patients seeking health care. Authors pointed to the 44 percent of survey respondents who said they planned to take steps to reduce patient access to their services. Physicians' intentions included retiring, cutting back on patient panel size, working part time, closing their practice to new patients and taking nonclinical jobs.
Importance of Physician Input
Physicians Foundation President and CEO Lou Goodman, Ph.D., summarized the challenges ahead. "The coming year will again be one of major transition of the U.S. health care system," said Goodman in the Dec.15 press release. "Regulatory and marketplace forces are having a number of unintended effects, including challenging the viability of smaller medical practices, reducing patient choice and putting tremendous strain on the physician/patient relationship."
He urged policymakers to "bring physicians into the fold." Physician input, said Goodman, would help ensure that any policies implemented were "designed to advance the quality of care for America's patients in 2015 and beyond."
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