Primary care physicians who are owners or partners in independent practices are more engaged and more productive than PCPs who work as employees.
That's one of the key findings from a recent survey of 1,029 physicians on the athenahealth network. The survey asked PCPs a variety of questions to assess their engagement and their perceived "capability"— that is, their determination of whether they have the tools, resources, and latitude to properly care for patients.
That information was then combined with athenahealth data on productivity, including the work Relative Value Units (wRVUs) physicians generate each day.
Within independent medical groups, the survey found, PCPs who are owners or partners are 11 percentage points more likely than those who are employed to report being engaged in their jobs (37.5 percent vs. 26.3 percent).
And independent owners and partners are nearly 20 percentage points more likely to feel engaged than physicians employed by health systems. (Engaged physicians are those who agree or strongly agree that they are willing to go above and beyond in their jobs and to recommend and stay with their organizations.)
On the productivity front, it's a similar story: On average, the data show PCP owners and partners generate 16 percent more wRVUs per day on average than their employed counterparts (26.9 wRVUs per day vs. 23.1 wRVUs). Likewise, owners and partners generate 29 percent more wRVUs than doctors employed by health systems, who logged an average of 20.8 wRVUs per day.
When it comes to physician burnout — defined as frequent or very frequent feelings of emotional exhaustion or depersonalization — the numbers flip slightly. Physicians employed by independent practices reported the least amount of burnout, at 40 percent, followed by owners/partners of independent practices, at 42.9 percent. Doctors employed by health systems were the most likely to report symptoms of burnout, at 45.5 percent.
While the survey doesn't get to the reasons for the differences between the three PCP groups, athenahealth vice president of research Josh Gray notes that ownership or partnership entails a connection to one's practice that employed physicians are less likely to feel.
“That employee relationship may dilute some of the passion of being an owner or partner," Gray says. “When you have a personal stake in a practice's success, you're probably going to feel more engaged, and that may lead you to be more productive."
Chris Hayhurst is a writer based in Northampton, Massachusetts.