PYA Covid-19 Information Hub
Published June 9, 2020

Physician Practice Models of the Future — Strategizing the “New Normal”

A PYA Perspective

Thoughts, Experiences, and Stories From the Field by the Experts at PYA

Opinions vary widely as to what the “new normal” will look like for medical practices. They have survived the physician practice management (PPM) model of the 1990s; they overcame the demise predicted through the passing of the Affordable Care Act and the challenges of navigating insurance exchanges; and so far, they’ve overcome the work-life balance generation that seeks employment so they can “see patients and go home” without worrying about the business fundamentals. And now we have COVID-19. It is true that some will decide that they are not tolerant of the inherent risk of owning their own business going forward. Some will reach out to local hospitals and health systems, or perhaps explore private equity opportunities previously ignored.

Some, though, may see this as an opportunity to think boldly and reinvent themselves, including adopting—perhaps even embracing—telemedicine, anticipating that regulations will mirror collective patients’ wants and wishes. So, what does this mean for brick-and-mortar medical practices? Will they shrink in size; will they fade away? Or maybe old concepts will resurrect.

We have heard of cities turning abandoned hotels into COVID-19 housing and predictions of the new norm for medical practices. A few years ago, I assisted a pediatric practice that I’m sure is thinking back to its roots. You see, the founding physicians understood the risks of exposure to communicable diseases.  They knew parents would worry about their babies/toddlers/teenagers coming away from a doctor’s visit with more germs than when they arrived. So the physicians stepped outside the norm and created a medical practice that mirrored a motel. Parents would pull their car into a parking space outside the exterior door of an exam room. The interior of the building housed a robust and thriving practice full of pediatricians and medical assistants. The parent and child would wait in the comfort of their car until a light indicated the room was prepped and ready for them. They would enter through the exterior door, while the care team would enter the room from an interior door. No waiting room with sticky little fingers, runny noses, coughs, and fevers. Once the visit ended, parent and child left directly out the exterior door, straight to their car.

While the practice eventually relocated into more contemporary medical space, and the founding physicians retired, I’m sure the remaining physicians, aware of this legacy, have imagined what the last two to three COVID-19 months would have been like if they were still in that original space. Maybe they would have escaped the 25-50% decrease in volume many pediatricians experienced as parents shied away from sick and well visits alike. At minimum, the practice would have been viewed as “ahead of the curve” in the social-distancing world in which we now find ourselves.

But has COVID-19 been influential enough to trigger a fundamental redesign of the medical practice? Have the fears of exposure changed consumer expectations such that the new winners are those who provide the lowest [physical] touch and greatest [physical] separation? If telemedicine works out its go-forward kinks, will the physical size of the average medical practice contract? Will practices have fewer people in their space to accommodate physical distancing? Or maybe some will need to add space to ensure same?

This will all be challenging in an environment where strong patient customer service has long focused on high-touch engagement; many make their careers in enhancing patient satisfaction by maximizing the care experience. Perhaps we can skip a step and look to the banking industry for guidance. In some markets, brick-and-mortar banks are rebounding. Why? Because technology can replace a lot, but it can’t replace that one-on-one, face-to-face interaction that is just sometimes needed.

There are many questions facing practices as they recover from the past few months. Only time will tell as the new normal is vetted and begins to take shape. For now, the dialogue is just beginning.

PYA is assisting providers of all types as they recalibrate after their COVID experience. As your organization evaluates its reopening plans and begins to strategize a sustainable future, PYA’s experienced executives can provide ideas and perspectives along the way. For additional current and post-COVID information visit PYA’s COVID-19 hub, or contact PYA at (800) 270-9629. Realty Trust Group, an affiliate of PYA, is available to assist with innovative real estate solutions and can be reached at (865) 521-0630.

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