The Future of Physician Practices After COVID-19

In many parts of the US and Canada, physician offices have reopened and are seeing patients again. After a long 3 months in lock-down patients and physicians alike are happy to be able to have appointments again – even at reduced capacity and with new safety measures in place.
Both the American Medical Association and Centers for Disease Control have published guidelines to help physicians reopen their practice.
Sadly, however, a number of physician practices have shuttered permanently. For some practices 3 months of zero revenue and ongoing costs (salaries, rent, liability insurance, etc) was simply too much. Some may have opted for early retirement, while others may have decided to join a larger healthcare organization as a salaried employee.
Healthcare media and experts have wildly different views on the future of physician practices. Some are believe the sky is falling on primary care and physician practices, while others see reason for optimism. McKinsey & Company, for example, recently polled physicians to determine their outlook in a post-COVID world.
In McKinsey’s Physician Survey, conducted in May 2020, physicians said they were now more likely to refer procedures and surgeries, physician visits, and diagnostic testing to non-hospital locations and to shift in-person visits to telehealth. Roughly a fourth of independent physicians say they are now more likely to pursue alignment with a larger organization, preferably another independent physician practice, to obtain financial and operational support.
According to McKinsey, although it’s true that ¼ of independent physicians may be looking for financial and operational support, many are seeking partnerships with larger organizations rather than being absorbed by them.
The McKinsey survey results give us a reason for optimism – only 26% of physicians surveyed said they are more likely to sell their practice compared to 63% who cite no change due to COVID-19 in their decision to sell and 10% who are less likely to sell because of COVID. I sincerely hope that physician practices survive. In many communities they represent the only readily accessible form of healthcare. If too many practices close, especially in rural communities, access to care may become an even bigger challenge than it is now. Granted, telemedicine may help to alleviate some of the concerns, but not everything can be handled through a virtual visit.
Because of this, I believe that physician practices need financial support to remain viable. I know that is easy to say, but difficult to execute…and honestly I don’t really have a great solution other than to create some sort of interest free loan program or an outright grant to keep practices open.
Having said that, I am open to the idea of practice alternatives. Perhaps retail clinics are the answer. Or perhaps advancements in medical devices will mean 80% of visits could be...