Hospital acquisition of doc practices improves care

When physician practices are acquired by hospitals, those practices become more adept at implementing care plans for chronically ill patients, according to a study published in the American Journal of Managed Care. The trend is associated with the change in ownership, researchers said. 

"It's interesting for physicians who are considering selling their practice to know what might change for the better and for patients who may find that their doctor's office is now owned by a hospital," lead author Tara Bishop, M.D., of Weil Cornell, said in a statement.

Across the country, hospitals are increasingly acquiring private physician practices. The new study sought to discern how this impacts patient care. Researchers focused on the practices' ability to implement Care Management Processes (CMPs) and use health information technology.

Bishop and her team analyzed data trends from three major national surveys of physician practices conducted over different time periods. Bishop said while the majority of practices in the country remain physician-owned, the trend toward hospital ownership has nudged upward since 2013. 

The study found that practices acquired by hospitals increased their use of CMPs, which are a proven method of improving patient outcomes, perhaps because those practices were able to access hospitals' powerful resources when implementing new policies. Hospital ownership did not appear to affect practices' use of medical records technology, however.

Not everyone is sanguine about the trend, which some say drives prices upward. A study released last year found that hospital-owned practices were far more likely to refer patients to that hospital. However, that can raise ethical questions, such as in a 2014 case where an Idaho judge ruled that a joint venture between St. Luke's Hospital system and the state's largest physician practice was a breach of anti-trust laws. 

To learn more:
- here's the study abstract
- read the statement