Is bigger better?
The consolidation seen in hospital systems and multispecialty groups has found its way into single specialty practices. Many urban areas now have GI group practices of 10 or more physicians. There are now approximately 15 groups with 40 or more gastroenterologists, including a few GI practices with 100 or more physicians.
Increasing the size of a practice has obvious potential advantages, including less burdensome on-call requirements and a lower per-physician cost of maintaining and operating the practice. Larger groups often have dedicated software development and IT support staff. Patients are engaged and can connect with their providers through all manner of social media.
Large practice size also can make it possible to enable physicians who may choose to focus on single areas of gastroenterology. This means that a physician who wants to subspecialize in areas such as inflammatory bowel disease, hepatology, woman’s health, and advanced therapeutic endoscopy, would have the requisite large patient base, through internal practice referral, to support subspecialization. Larger groups can also integrate ancillary services into their practice such as pathology, infusion therapy, and nonhospital-based endoscopy services.
However, there can be disadvantages to choosing a larger practice. As in other larger institutions, physicians practicing in larger-sized groups may feel somewhat removed from practice management decisions. It may take several years to become a partner in a large practice – if you are more interested in the opportunity to be involved in practice decisions, a smaller group may be right for you.
New trends in practice groups
Physicians are continuously looking for ways to practice effectively and efficiently while expanding the range of services offered (think obesity management). Independent practice physicians are finding it increasingly difficult to grow and manage successful organizations while they care for their patients. Larger practices now typically include areas such as nursing, information technology, human resources, billing, and practice administration. I trained to treat patients, not run a business – there was much I’ve learned along the way. Many schools now offer joint MD/MBA programs. This may help blend the clinical, operational, and business components of practice.
In a newly developing trend, practice groups are exploring strategic partnerships with private equity/venture capital, practice management companies, national ambulatory surgery center companies, and even managed care insurance companies. This creates the opportunity to forge partnerships with these various health care–focused groups, and results in investment in GI practices seeking experienced business leadership and management while remaining independent of a health system. Already well established in dermatology, ophthalmology, and anesthesia, this phenomenon is now beginning in gastroenterology.
There are many things to consider when choosing a career path. Independent practice in gastroenterology continues as a vitally important component of care delivery, and it’s my hope that the new generation of gastroenterologists finds their journey as rewarding and personally satisfying as mine has been.
, is a board-certified gastroenterologist and the medical director of the North Shore Endoscopy Center in Lake Bluff, Ill., the founding president of Illinois Gastroenterology Group, and immediate past president of DHPA.