Life is tough for physicians in solo and small group practice. The federally mandated introduction this fall of ICD-10 requires physicians and their staffs to learn a new system of coding diseases. “Meaningful Use,” another federal program, requires physicians to install and use electronic health records systems, which are complex and expensive. And PQRS, the Physician Quality Reporting System, is beginning to penalize physicians for failing to report individual data for up to 110 quality measures, such as patient immunizations, each of which takes time to collect and record.
Of course, such requirements are not being imposed solely on solo and small-group physicians. In many ways, they affect all physicians alike. Yet the burdens of complying are disproportionately high for small groups, which cannot spread out the costs of purchasing equipment, hiring employees and consultants, and training personnel over so large a number of colleagues. Hospitals and large medical groups can afford to hire full-time specialists to meet these challenges, but such approaches are not economically feasible for a group that consists of only a few physicians.
Such challenges are not just raining down – they are pouring down on the heads of physicians. Some physicians fear they smell a conspiracy to drive solo and small-group practitioners out of business. And the problem is not just the money. It’s also the time. Many physicians already work long hours and simply cannot afford to shop for such systems, negotiate contracts, and enter data. We personally know physicians who report spending two hours each evening completing records that they did not have time to attend to while they were seeing patients.