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Physicians Flee Private Practice

By 2013, barely a third of doctors will be in private practice . / Credit: Fleeing physicians image via Shutterstock

Another American icon — the independent doctor with a private practice — is taking a hit from economic realities. An increasing number of U.S. doctors are expected to leave private practice for hospital employment over the next 18 months because of rising costs and technology mandates, according to a new study. And those who remain independent are beginning to test alternative business models.

Over the past decade, the number of independent U.S. physicians has dropped dramatically, from 57 percent of all physicians in 2000 to 39 percent in 2012, according to a survey of 204 physicians in independent practice conducted by Accenture, a global consulting firm. By the end of 2013, this number is predicted to drop further, to 36 percent.

By then, Accenture also predicts that one in three physicians remaining independent will offer patients subscription-based services such as telemedicine or online consultations to remain profitable — a trend that is expected to increase three-fold over the next three years.

Business operations are one of the main reasons why 61 percent of physicians have decided to seek employment, with costs and expense of running a business indicated as the chief concern for 87 percent of doctors surveyed, Accenture said. More than half of doctors surveyed (53 percent) cited electronic medical record requirements as a main reason for leaving private practice.

Physicians who want to remain independent need to find ways to lower their cost structure or improve revenue. Subscription-based practices have the potential to do both, Accenture said. High-end personalized concierge medicine and direct-pay models are among the most common subscription-based models.

"More independent physicians are offering subscription-based services as a way for patients to customize their car experience," said Dr. Kaveth Safavi, who leads Accenture's North American health industry practice. "Meanwhile, patients appreciate the opportunity to supplement their existing coverage with premium, subscription-based services, such as same-day appointments and online prescription refills."