Despite pandemic, independent medical practices say they are more confident than ever

Dive Brief:

  • In what appears to be a break from the gloom physicians have felt over the past year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, independent medical practices “feel stronger, resilient, and positive about the future of their practice and the industry,” according to a new survey by Kareo.
  • This feeling of optimism came despite the fact that 11% of independent medical practices said they had shut down temporarily during the pandemic. And 60% of those practices were closed for five weeks or longer. The data is in line with other research suggesting medical practices have bounced back.
  • Despite the huge strains placed on independent practices, the rise of telehealth services not only helped stabilize them in the second half of last year, but also apparently promises a base for more steady business over the longer term.

Dive Insight:

Medical practices took a big financial hit during the first part of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but they have proved remarkably resilient. According to the Kareo survey — which queried more than 1,300 practices in more than 50 medical specialties — 75% of them expect to experience growth in 2021. Just 6% expected their volumes or business to shrink this year, compared to 14% in 2019.

The Kareo data suggest that the medical practices stabilized significantly during the second half of last year. While 49% of practices said they saw a decrease in patients in 2020, 51% said they reported an increase.

The quick move over to providing telehealth services appears to have been a big boost. At some point last year, 43% say they offered telehealth services only. Today, 36% of the practices say that at least half of their patient encounters are now telehealth-based, including 27% who say at least three-quarters of their visits are virtual. And 80% of the practices say they are now offering telehealth services on an ongoing basis.

Overall, 43% of the practices say that telehealth services are important in terms of delivering patient care. While that number is relatively low, it was just 21% in 2019.

“In the past two years, healthcare has seen a large integration of technology throughout the field. With the pandemic accelerating its evolution, telehealth has allowed medical professionals of smaller practices to spend more time with their patients,” the report said.

Meanwhile, the changes wrought by the pandemic and telehealth are also making independent practices less likely to seek a buyer or merger partner: Just 5% of those surveyed said they had expectations of merging with a hospital or healthcare system, down from 15% in 2019. And only 6% said they expected to merge with another practice, compared with 16% in 2019.