Staffing your health system with fully employed physicians should ultimately improve coordination of care, and perhaps boost overall quality…right? Not so fast, according to survey results from the Center for Studying Health System Change, based in Washington, D.C.
Their survey respondents -- reps from health systems, health plans, physician groups and others --fear that tight relationships between docs and health systems could drive up healthcare costs in the region. When hospitals and their employed physicians lock up a volume of patients in one area, they can demand higher rates from insurers, skeptics say.
Case in point: Healthcare players in the Greenville-Spartanburg, S.C., area are worried about how the high proportion of employed physicians at local hospitals will affect care and cost in the years ahead.
Greenville Hospital System University Medical Center and Spartanburg Regional have ratcheted up their medical staff over the past three years. GHS has leapt to more than 550 employed MDs, up from only 160 in 2007, and says it's going to hire more. Spartanburg Regional has nearly doubled its number of on-staff docs, bringing the total to about 270.
A worst-case scenario could include a breach between an insurer and the combined hospital/physician group could result in patients losing access to care, according to the Center for Studying Health System Change. They point to one health plan, Select Health, which lost access to GHS facilities following a contract dispute. Now many those patients have to be referred to Columbia, S.C., and/or Charlotte, N.C., the Center's researchers say.
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