Medical groups should work collaboratively with non-physician providers to improve access
Healthcare— the way it’s delivered, the way it’s implemented, the way it’s talked about—has changed. And so have the patients we’re serving.
Medical group practices are simultaneously servicing the needs of five generations, and this poses a serious issue for physicians who want to provide individualized care. How do we bridge the gap?
As individuals who have chosen the care of others as a profession, it’s still our duty to adapt and shift to the evolving demands of modern healthcare, despite these changes. It’s time we got back to thinking about patient care first.
The best health systems and medical groups recognize that excellent healthcare is the result of coordinated, thoughtful teamwork. The 2015 Medical Group Management Association Cost and Revenue Survey revealed that the use of nurse practitioners, physician assistants and other non-physician providers (NPPs) increased more than 40% between 2010 and 2014.
These NPPs represent an assortment of personnel—including midwives and social workers—all working together to provide full service of care for the patient.
NPPs are extremely valuable members of the healthcare delivery team. They improve patient care by increasing the efficiency of physicians, allowing doctors to focus on more acute needs. NPPs also improve patient satisfaction by creating greater access and appointment availability. And frankly, they also reduce the direct and overhead costs of a practice. It might not be in the best interests of time or resources to have a surgeon perform a physical when a physician assistant is perfectly qualified to do so.
The Cost and Revenue survey found that physician-owned surgical practices that specialize in one branch of medicine employed 0.85 non-physician providers for every full-time doctor in 2014. That was up from a ratio of 0.59 non-physician providers per full-time physician in 2010 at those clinics. The number of NPPs employed is only going to increase as more patients are insured under the Affordable Care Act.
Yet some physicians aren’t completely on board with utilizing these professionals. They may feel a loss of control or may not be confident in the work being done by others. The simple truth is, when you have a teambased model, you need to learn to build trust. NPPs have completed extensive educational training and are highly qualified to contribute to the care of patients. In fact, many small, rural critical-access hospitals and medical practices are run by NPPs, with physicians stepping in as needed for more critical cases.
Doctors are still providing most of the care, but it’s important to realize that there is a role for every practitioner to play. Utilizing advances in technology is an excellent way to provide a full scope of care. The Cost and Revenue Survey also revealed that spending on technology has increased by almost 12% since last year. In some hospitals and medical practices, nurses are using apps that allow them to report patient issues faster. Others are using FaceTime with patients in their regular office hours.
This is just one way of bridging the gap between individualized care and the resources that are readily available. It’s evident that many medical practices are realizing that times are changing, and they are doing something about it.
Rather than being competitive, let’s be collaborative. When doctors, administrators and NPPs work collaboratively, they can provide better solutions than when they act separately. We are starting to see an influx of physicians who understand that something wasn’t right with the old way of practicing medicine—too many silos, too much opposition. We’ve got to do it differently.
If we can bring these healthcare professionals together, we can create a movement—which is exactly what we need now. Providing the best for our patients always needs to be the end goal, regardless of how many hands need to help.
If we can bring all healthcare professionals together, we can create a movement— which is exactly what we need now.
Dr. Halee Fischer-Wright is president and CEO of the Medical Group Management Association, based in Englewood, Colo.