The Intake

Insights for those starting, managing, and growing independent healthcare practices

Unlocking the competitive edge: 3 advantages independent practices have over hospitals and corporations

Deciding between private practice and larger health systems can be challenging for new and experienced healthcare providers alike.

independent practices are better than hospitals

At a Glance

  • Independent medical practices offer healthcare professionals autonomy over key decisions, leading to higher physician satisfaction and lower burnout compared to hospitals and corporations.
  • Physician-owned practices prioritize patient well-being over profits, resulting in a better patient experience and higher satisfaction compared to larger health systems and corporate settings.
  • Financial pressures often drive physicians to sell their practices to hospitals, but independent practices demonstrate resilience and potential for increased revenue and expansion in a competitive market.

As physicians continue to depart from independent practices to join larger healthcare organizations, the industry is experiencing a profound shift. The effects of this can be felt by physicians and patients alike. Faced with the growing challenge of attracting and retaining top talent, independent practices must find a way to compete with these larger organizations while maintaining the qualities that make private practice unique.

To support independent practices in this endeavor, Tebra surveyed 101 healthcare providers (including nurse practitioners, physicians, and specialists) in the United States. We aimed to determine the key differences among practice types. 

In this article, we'll dive into the findings to unveil why physicians leave private practices and pinpoint key benefits that independent practices can highlight to stay competitive.

Is working at a private practice better than working at a hospital?

Today’s healthcare providers face a multitude of challenges, including burnout and stress, intricate regulations, and staffing deficits. While the complex and imperfect healthcare system plays a significant role — either as a direct cause or by exacerbating pre-existing situations — administrators of practices, hospitals, and corporate healthcare facilities have the power to rectify them. 

Unfortunately, the effects of these challenges extend beyond the provider, negatively impacting patient care. These impacts are magnified in healthcare facilities that are not physician-owned, with 60% of physicians noting a decline in patient care quality. Despite this, many continue to flock to hospitals and corporations for better access to costly resources (such as scans and labs), guaranteed income, and reduced administrative load. 

So, which option is better for health care providers? The short answer: it depends. 

Deciding between private practice and larger health systems can be challenging for new and experienced healthcare providers alike. Ultimately, the decision comes down to your preferences and circumstances. 

To gain a deeper understanding of each practice type, Tebra surveyed healthcare providers from independent practices, hospitals, and corporations. We found the following insights:

  • 92% of surveyed providers reported experiencing some level of burnout
  • 15% of independent providers reported no burnout
  • 94% of independent providers felt confident they could deliver a superior patient experience at an independent healthcare practice
  • 12% of healthcare providers would consider switching to a corporate health system, and 23% would consider a health-system-based practice — but a majority of respondents cited less control over the work environment/work-life balance as a reason not to do so

The next section will dive deeper into why healthcare practitioners have a better experience or perception of physician-owned practices.

What are 3 advantages physicians’ partners in independent medical practices have over those employed in health systems?

Owning an independent practice empowers healthcare professionals with a degree of autonomy that is not found in hospitals and corporations. This autonomy significantly enhances physician satisfaction and mitigates burnout, while positively influencing the overall experience for both practitioners and patients.

Get the playbook

1. Autonomy over key decisions

In private practice settings, healthcare practitioners have the autonomy to make healthcare decisions without interference from corporate entities. This is an invaluable benefit that is not often afforded to physicians at hospitals and corporations. In fact, 83% of physicians surveyed by the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) reported experiencing a loss of control over care decisions following changes in ownership. And 72% cited a noticeable shift towards prioritizing profits over patient well-being. 

Autonomy significantly enhances physician satisfaction and mitigates burnout. ”

Tebra’s Physician Survey further supports how valuable autonomy is for physicians. Nearly 90% cited increased control over work conditions, work-life balance, and the ability to choose patients (61%) as the primary reasons for choosing independent practices over hospitals and corporations.

2. Improved physician burnout rates

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, physician burnout has surged. It now affects 49% of physicians, 42% of whom have been struggling with burnout for over 2 years. Although Tebra’s 2023 survey identified staff shortages (27%) and high stress (25%) as leading causes of burnout for both independent practices and larger health systems, their reported levels of physician burnout were quite different. 

In larger health systems, 100% of providers admitted to feeling at least some level of burnout. However, only 38% of independent practice providers were either somewhat burnt out (23%) or not at all burnt out (15%).

3. Enhanced patient experience

While the advantages of independent practice are evident for physicians, they extend to the patient experience as well. According to Tebra's Independent Provider Playbook, 51% of patients preferred independent practice providers to health system-based providers (40%) and corporate-based providers (9%). The reason? Quality of care

In independent practices, patient satisfaction is 23% higher than in health systems. 66% of patients stated quality time with their doctor made them feel that they were receiving a higher quality of care. 

Why are doctors selling their practices to hospitals?

Despite the numerous advantages that independent practices offer, a significant portion of physicians — 74% according to Tebra's research — worked for hospitals or corporations by 2022. This begs the question: why are physicians opting for employment in these larger institutions? 

It turns out, the primary driving force behind this trend is financial. According to the American Medical Association, 80% of physicians sold their practices because they required higher rates from payers to maintain financial viability. Another 53% of physicians who transitioned from independent practice to employment cited government and private insurer reimbursement cuts as the reason for their decision. 

While financial pressures have led many independent practices to integrate with larger organizations, there are reasons for optimism. Tebra's State of Independent Practice Ownership report found that 37% of owners anticipate increased revenue, with 27% planning to expand their teams. This highlights the resilience and potential success of independent practices in a competitive market.

Empowering independent providers to outperform hospitals and corporations

As the healthcare landscape shifts towards larger institutions, independent practices have an invaluable opportunity to highlight their ability to deliver top-notch, personalized care. But to preserve the autonomy required for this level of care, your practice needs to be financially viable. In this market, that means you’ll need to compete with the services and systems that larger health systems and corporate entities provide. Ready to find out how?

Keep your practice competitive with our Independent Provider Playbook.

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Learn how to create a seamless patient experience that increases loyalty and reduces churn, while providing personalized care that drives practice growth in Tebra’s free guide to optimizing your practice.

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Kali Armstrong

Kali Armstrong is an experienced content writer with a background in sciences and storytelling. Her passion for writing led her to receive a BA in communication from the University of Calgary. She believes healthcare should be accessible to all, and aims to provide educational content that empowers individuals to understand their health. Prior to writing for The Intake, she contributed to Forbes, Thrive Global, and Inc.

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