Integrating physicians into hospitals has been theorized to be a cost-saving measure. A new poll of physician executives indicates that such integration may actually increase healthcare costs.
The American College of Physician Executives (ACPE) polled its 11,000 members, asking them what happens to healthcare costs when a physician group or practice is purchased by their hospital or health system.
Of the 468 members who answered the question, 149, or nearly 32 percent, said that healthcare costs go up. Only 22 respondents (4.7 percent) said costs go down. Sixteen percent (75 respondents) said costs remain mostly the same. About 35 percent (163) said the question wasn’t applicable to their institution.
The poll results should be taken as an indication of a possible trend but not as rock solid evidence that physician integration results in higher healthcare costs, cautioned Peter Angood, MD, ACPE’s CEO.
“I think part of the issue that we need to try and tease out further is so are the costs directly related to the physicians ordering more tests and generating more care, or is it that the fact is in order to cover the investment of the physician purchase – the infrastructure that is needed to support them and the other personnel – are those costs getting transferred into the other expenses in terms of charges in the costs of healthcare care,” he said.
Angood believes it is the latter issue spurring the higher healthcare costs, and that those higher costs are likely a temporary situation. As the upfront investment costs depreciate, the higher healthcare costs should drop, he said.
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Costs should also drop, he said, if the theory of providing integrated care results in improved quality, safety and efficiencies.