New Study Finds the Future of the Independent Practice Is More Optimistic than Ever

For several years, it’s been an accepted truth in healthcare that many independent practices are merging into hospitals and larger groups. But according to a new study focused on independent practices, the data tells a different story. Despite the unparalleled challenges of the past year, the future of independent practices has seldom been so bright.

According to Kareo’s 2021 State of the Independent Practice survey and report, most practices today are happy with their size and independence. In a similar survey we conducted in 2019, 65% of practices indicated they were not interested in a merger with a hospital or another practice and by 2021, that number has grown to 86%.

You can download Kareo's 2021 State of the Independent Practice report on our hub page.

Speaking to the dire predictions of disappearing independent practices, the survey asked participants about their expectations for mergers, partnerships, and being acquired. The results contradict accepted wisdom.

As a leading provider of cloud-based clinical and practice management software platforms and solutions, Kareo in 2020 helped nearly 4,000 new independent practices set up shop. This number suggests that in the middle of what should have been the biggest threat to independent practices in recent history, many practitioners were going into business, not out of it.

As of January 2021, 75% of independent practices expect to grow in 2021, up from 59% in 2019, according to Kareo’s 2021 report. Even more optimistically, fewer practices expect their patient loads to shrink. Only 6% now anticipate lower patient volumes – less than half of the 14% in 2019 findings.

Why is this true? Why should smaller practices that seem the most vulnerable to the recent economic downturns be so optimistic about the future? The answer might be flexibility and vision. In the last year and a half, independent practices have increased in both.

During 2020, Kareo conducted three pulse surveys to determine the ongoing state of independent practices and the pandemic’s impact on these essential healthcare resources. In the June 2020 pulse survey, 75% of independent practice respondents reported lower patient volumes, threatening this critical segment of the healthcare industry. And yet, according to the December 2020 pulse survey, independent practices emerged from 2020 with their annual patient load the same (22%) or even higher (29%) than they had been in 2019. Those who have not simply survived but thrived in the face of adversary share some commonalities.

Telehealth adoption skyrocketed from a 22% adoption rate in 2019 to 80% today. But telehealth is not just a technology that made it possible for independent practices to stay in business. It’s part of a practitioner mindset shift from regarding technology as a time-consuming necessity to recognizing it as an efficiency-enhancing support tool. Find out how Kareo can help you provide a secure and easy-to-use telehealth solution.

Once telehealth was in place, practices began to look to other technology tools for scheduling, reminders, check-in, follow-ups, and so much more – functions that are difficult or impossible to perform manually in a remote-care world. Quickly, practices found that these technologies were not just expedient stopgaps, but often a better way to support or even permanently replace costly manual practices and save valuable time for practitioners and staff. Arguably, armed with these new tools adopted in a time of crisis, independent practitioners are now better equipped to deal with the time demands of small-business healthcare.

Not only did practices learn from these shifts in workflow and operation, so did patients. It’s clear that patients appreciate the added convenience of a telehealth option, as well as conveniences found in other industries such as online scheduling and online portals.

This last shift points to another path forward for independent practitioners: patient-centric healthcare. While delivering care is always a high priority for independent practices, in 2019, 50% of participants named it as their primary focus and in the 2021 report, that number has grown to 71%. This suggests that practitioners have a stronger understanding of their role in patients’ lives and health, perhaps prompted by the pandemic, as well as an increasing recognition of the consumerization of healthcare in which patients seek providers who meet their expectations.

From the last year and a half, independent practices have learned that they can be flexible quickly enough to prevail against huge challenges and that they can use technology to engage with and support patients, while saving all-important provider time.

The Kareo survey covers these topics and much more, including key initiatives, challenges, best practices, and trends that will impact the future for independent practices. You can download the complete report, as well as a recording of our July 21 webinar discussing the results, on our hub page.

About the Author

Cher Knebel is a Sr. Content Marketing Manager at Kareo and joined the company in 2019. She has been a content creator for more than two decades, specifically working...

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