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Doctors share why practicing independently pays off in more ways than one

By Carley Thornell | July 24, 2020

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There are myriad similarities when it comes to establishing an independent practice, no matter what the location, specialty, or number of years in exam rooms.

Dr. Michael Skyhar is an orthopedic surgeon who went solo after decades in a medical group, and Dr. Devon Craft, a family physician who recently established his own practice after of residency. Both concur that practicing independently often means having a dual role as a doctor and a businessman. They say finding the right technology has been pivotal to helping them succeed in their respective journeys – not only financially, but when it comes to personal satisfaction. Skyhar and Craft recently shared advice with others considering starting an independent practice.  

Tips for starting out

Rather than patients, it’s all about “patience” in the beginning, says Craft. All in all, it took him about a year to first get approved as a corporation to practice in New York state, then proceed with insurance company credentialing and contracting. 

Even as a practicing doctor transitioning to his own business—which would just mean changing location and identification numbers—Skyhar says, “That credentialing step always takes longer than you think—it seems easy, but it isn’t!”

He suggests allowing six months, and said he outsourced credentialing to someone knowledgeable with California rules. “She made the process very easy for me, and it worked out admirably well. It’s not expensive, and figuring that out on your own could be onerous.”

While other practices often outsource coding, Dr. Skyhar says he still likes to keep on top of it himself, he said. “Revenue will increase, and therefore, partially help you avoid burnout.”

The right technology to support success

Craft said after researching clinical and billing tools, he chose the EHR that was the most flexible and geared toward independent physicians. “I really felt like athena allowed me to keep my staffing at a minimum, which would allow me to grow,” he said. He and his one nurse are easily able to transition from performing front-desk to clinical tasks because his EHR and billing solution are integrated, for instance. “I also had a wonderful onboarding process that made me realize I may have overlooked some of the business aspects, and some things that may have taken longer to do on my own. So (with that training) I was able to stay lean and flexible and move along quicker.”

Dr. Skyhar said he is also able to keep a smaller staff thanks to his medical billing solution. “Super-efficient, better billing practices” and consistent financial analytics were key factors in his selection, along with resources for help. “Both self-directed and being able to get a human on the line, which is a little unusual for a lot of these EHRs. athena is very focused on private-practice success.”

Continuous communication also supports ongoing updates to incentive payment programs, Skyhar said. “The ability of athena to stay ahead of acronyms like MIPS and all of the other ones has been super helpful and something I don’t have to worry about,” he said. Skyhar cited mobile technology and telehealth solutions as other factors that have supported his business growth.

Ensuring physician satisfaction

Though there may be more work involved in running their own practices, Skyhar and Craft both say they’ve found independence prevents burnout.

“I knew that being a private practitioner would make me happier and allow me to personalize care for a lot of my patients. Being part of a large medical group style practice throughout my training really confirmed that for me,” said Craft. He says not having to ask for permission for an afternoon off and being able to work his schedule around any personal needs is a weight off of his shoulders. That freedom also benefits patients, he said. “I can leave extra time (in my schedule) for a complicated patient, or for someone who needs counseling, or someone who needs a complicated procedure.”

Skyhar also said having no control over schedule density can lead to feelings of being overwhelmed. “One of the things that helped whatever burnout I might have had before the jump was realizing that I would become my own boss,” he explained. “I got to determine my own schedule, what to do, when I wanted to do it, and how I wanted to do it. Simply being in control helps burnout. Besides that, you have the ability to continuously engaged with your family.”

To hear more from Skyhar and Craft, watch this webinar.