Guest Column: National Survey: 16,000 physician practices have closed due to effects of COVID-19 (Kurt Mosley)

By Kurt Mosley – Vice President of Strategic Alliances, Merritt Hawkins (a WHA Gold-Level Corporate Member)

September 03, 2020

Eight percent of physicians across the country have closed their practices as a result of COVID-19, totaling approximately 16,000 practices, according to a new survey.  
 
The national Survey of America’s Physicians is conducted by Merritt Hawkins, a WHA Gold Level Corporate Member on behalf of The Physicians Foundation, a nonprofit seeking to advance the work of practicing physicians and help them facilitate the delivery of high-quality health care to patients.  Begun in 2008, the survey now is conducted on a biennial basis and is sent to hundreds of thousands of physicians nationwide.
 
The 2020 edition of the survey focuses on how physicians and their patients are being affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to the 8% of physicians who have closed their practices in the last four months as a result of the virus, 4% plan to close in the next 12 months. Of those who have closed, the majority (72%) are private practice owners or partners.  
 
“The pandemic has had a devastating effect on many small businesses, including physician practices,” said Kurt Mosley, Vice President of Strategic Alliances for Merritt Hawkins. “Many physicians have been compelled to give up private practice in recent years due to rising costs, regulations and other challenges. The pandemic has simply been a bridge too far for some physicians.”
 
The majority of physicians (78%) indicated they had experienced a reduction in patient or RVU volumes in the last four months. Of these, 41% said they saw volume decreases of 26% or more. Decreases in practice volume can have a ripple effect that extends to hospitals, according to Mosley, who points to the fact that physicians, on average, generate $2.4 million in net revenue for their affiliated hospitals, as tracked by Merritt Hawkins.     
 
“Physicians are the economic engines of health care,” Mosley said. “When they slow down, the whole health care system slows down. It’s in the best interest of everyone that physician practices remain strong and viable.”
 
The majority of physicians surveyed believe that the pandemic will be long-lasting and will have significant effects on how physicians practice and how health care is delivered. Eighty-six percent believe that COVID-19 will not be under control until after January 2021.
“The data reveals a near-consensus among America’s physicians about COVID-19’s immediate and lasting impact on our health care system,” said Gary Price, MD, president of The Physicians Foundation. “We are living through a historical shift in the way we practice and how we deliver care to patients. Our health care landscape is constantly changing right now, and we expect it will be radically different for both physicians and our patients long after the pandemic passes.”

Other findings of the survey include:
 
  • 43% of physicians have reduced their staffs as a result of COVID-19.
  • 12% – approximately 100,000 physicians – have switched to a primarily telemedicine practice.
  • 59% said the pandemic will result in fewer independent physician practices.
  • 50% said hospitals will exert more control over the organization and delivery of healthcare as a result of the pandemic.
  • 59% said opening public places presents a greater risk to patients than prolonging social distancing.
The survey includes a number of additional data points as well as an analysis that explores the implications of the data for physicians, patients, hospitals and other stakeholders. Wisconsin Hospital Association Members can obtain a copy of the survey report by contacting Merritt Hawkins Marketing Director for Wisconsin, Nate Pillar, at Nathan.Piller@merritthawkins.com.
 
Author
Kurt Mosley serves as Vice President of Strategic Alliances for Merritt Hawkins, the nation’s leading physician search and consulting firm, and a company of AMN Healthcare, the largest health care staffing organization in the United States. With over 25 years of health care industry experience, Mr. Mosley is one of the nation’s leading authorities on the evolving health care system, particularly the way physician supply, demand and access are changing.
 
 

This story originally appeared in the September 03, 2020 edition of WHA Newsletter