Doctor-owned facilities at turning point

Over the next several months, I'm going to be watching the market closely to see how doctor-owned facilities do. On the one hand, they have a track record of profitability, but on the other, there's always a regulator or two looking for ways to raise their barriers to entry or limit their ability to expand.

The question for 2009 will be whether doctor-owned facilities--especially ambulatory surgical centers and hospitals--find friends in this new Congress, or whether those who would seek to stamp them out succeed. If doctors can convince legislators that their investments are a good thing, it could set the scene for years to come. If they don't, we'll end up remembering this as they year the physician-ownership model went sour.

If I had to make a bet on which way it will go, I'd bet on physician-ownership waning. With costs going up and access to capital at an all-time low, a growing number of medical groups are selling out to hospitals rather than carrying the expense of ownership themselves.

Still, if the economy turns around more quickly than expected this year, I'm betting physician investments in hospitals, ASCs and the like will rebound. After all, there's a bucket of money to be made on specialty hospitals and surgery centers, and if economic conditions become less hostile, smart doctors will go for it.

What do you think, readers? Will 2009 be a good year for the physician investor? Write to me and let me know. - Anne

PS - In observance of the holiday, FierceHealthcare will not publish on Monday, Jan. 19. We'll be back on Tuesday, Jan. 20.