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More women taking over doctor's offices, survey finds

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A recent survey of the ongoing financial pressures faced by physicians revealed an interesting trend: more women are becoming owners of physician practices.

The survey from TD Bank, released Monday, revealed that 36 percent of women reported owning their practices for less than five years, while 47 percent of men have been in practice for more than 20 years.

The survey looked at responses from 340 small medical practices in the U.S., and reaffirmed that financial pressures are forcing small practices into mergers or sales. At the same time, the survey showed there is optimism, and that physician practices are still a profitable proposition.

Dan Croft, head of health care practice solutions with the bank, said that, generally, expenses go up every year, but practices remain 30 to 50 percent profitable.

Ray Saputelli, executive vice president of New Jersey Academy of Family Physicians, disagreed.

“Like every business, some do better than others. Primary care is very difficult. Physicians are working harder and longer to be in any way profitable,” he said. “Many of them are struggling to keep their heads above water.”

The TD Bank survey showed that the outlook for physican practices is positive, with the younger doctors and female doctors relying on technology to become more efficient.

The younger physicians are also logging more hours to do so; meanwhile, older doctors with more mature practices are working fewer hours — about 3 days per week, Croft said.

That is because those doctors are looking to retire, and are often older than 65, he said.

Breaking down the survey

On ownership:

  • 50 percent of doctors have or would consider purchasing, buying into, merging or selling their practice;
  • 73 percent expect to do so within the next four years;
  • 43 percent expect increased revenue.

On priority capital spending:

  • 48 percent prioritize buying or leasing new technology;
  • 33 percent prioritize hiring more staff;
  • 26 percent prioritize training and education.

On retirement:

  • 84 percent age 35 and younger think they will retire by age 65;
  • 76 percent age 55 or older believe they will retire after 65;
  • 49 percent report they are extremely or financially prepared for retirement;
  • Males are more confident than females (54 percent vs 37 percent) about having enough cash to support retirement years.

Source: TD Bank

The financial crisis caused many to delay retirement, similar to what happened in other industries, and many practice owners are trying to determine ways to sell their practice for the value they anticipated in order to peacefully retire.

In New Jersey, Saputelli said, the outlook can be optimistic, but it all depends on which direction the future of health care goes.

If value-based reimbursement payments dominate, there is room for optimism, since that system will pay doctors to deliver high-quality care, Saputelli said.

But while TD Bank says younger physicians are willing to work longer hours at practices, Saputelli said most of the students coming out of schools are trying to work for established physician groups or hospitals to escape the uncertainty of running their own practices.

Croft said that, in the last five years, across the country, a majority of graduates are women, which is why the increase in ownership is seen.

“It remains a profitable industry,” he said of small physician practices.

Only 14 percent of medical professionals anticipate having to shut the doors of their practices.

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Write to the Editorial Department at editorial@njbiz.com

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