Dr. Sharon Jellinek opened her Buckingham pediatric practice in 2004. Her goal: To preserve quality, personal medical care. The kind, she said, she “witnessed years ago.”
She prides herself on being available after hours, when she’s reachable by cellphone to take emergency calls. During the day, patients who call won’t get “10 prompts” or have to wait to talk to a live person, she said.
This kind of personalized practice is getting harder to maintain during a time when pressures are growing on doctors to jump through more hoops to care for their patients. From IT costs to insurance contracts, economic pressures are pushing solo practitioners and small private practices to join larger groups or just close their doors, according to area doctors and others in the medical field.
The bottom line: Fewer independent doctors, more hospital mergers and new regulations attached to the Affordable Care Act are affecting what doctors we see, where we go for services and how much we pay for care.
“There are too many hands in the cookie jar, where insurance is making money and pharmaceuticals are making money, and they all want the money,” said Moorestown, New Jersey, physician Steven Horvitz. “The small players, who are the patients and individual physicians, end up paying the most.”
For some, the cost is too high. Independent doctors are increasingly joining hospital groups or larger practices or, like Horvitz, changing their models so they don’t have to take insurance.
The Association of Independent Doctors, a trade group, points to research that shows the number of independent doctors — those not directly employed by a hospital system — as a percentage of total doctors has dropped from 57 percent in 2000 to 36 percent in 2013.
“More than 100,000 independent doctors have exited the practice or become hospital-employed,” said Marni Jameson, executive director of the national group.
Pennsylvania has seen a similar decline.