Survey: Solo practices nearly gone

Family practitioners remain the hardest-to-find doctors across the country, but nobody wants them in the iconic one-doc practices of American folklore, according to a physician recruitment firm.

Only 1 percent of the recruiting jobs given to Texas-based Merritt Hawkins over the past year were for solo practitioners, the firm reported this month. That’s down from 22 percent of all searches in 2004.

Instead, hospital employment deals are dominating the scene, accounting for 63 percent of all searches. Hospitals accounted for just 11 percent in 2004. But if current growth rates continue, they will account for three out of every four doctor searches two years from now.

“Nobody wants to be Marcus Welby anymore, practicing alone or with a partner, and fewer hospitals are seeking solo doctors for their communities,” Merritt Hawkins founder James Merritt said in a prepared statement.

Doctors are being pushed into larger teams because of more expensive technology, new regulations and the new payment models such as accountable care organizations that reward physician collaboration, he added.

Although 57 percent of all physicians were part of independent practicies in 2000, Merritt Hawkins expects only 33 percent to be independent next year.

The survey results are based on the 2,710 recruiting assignments Merritt Hawkins was given by health care providers from April 2011 to March 2012. Of those, only 28 were seeking a solo practitioner for a community.

Family practitioners were the most frequent target of a recruiting assignment. To no surprise, the average salary offered to them rose 6 percent in the past year, to $189,000.

A few other specialists, however, saw even bigger bumps in compensation. Ear, nose and throat doctors were offered $412,000, on average, up 15 percent over the previous year. Endocrinologists were offered an average of $248,000, up 11 percent over the previous year. Dermatologists saw a 10-percent bump in offered salaries, to $364,000.

Hospitals and physician groups also typically offer physicians a chance for a bonus. Most of those still hinge on the volume of procedures a physician does. But with both public and private payers pushing programs that reward quality or patients’ health outcomes, 35 percent of those bonuses last year were based, at least in part, on quality metrics.

“The tide is turning, but increasing the volume of services they provide remains the most practical way for physicians to increase their incomes,” Merritt said.

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