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Physicians Take the Lead

Elyas Bakhtiari, for HealthLeaders Media, March 13, 2008
After spending a few days at the AMGA annual conference talking to physicians and group practice executives, I can't escape the notion that, if the U.S. healthcare system is headed for major change, it won't happen without physicians leading the way.

AMGA selected industry outsiders as its keynote speakers--Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, Former Senator Bill Bradley, and economist Michael Porter--and though they differed on their approaches to reform, their common message was this: The healthcare system can only change from within.

That seemed to resonate with attendees, many of whom are already making innovative changes to improve care--and their bottom line--while they wait for the federal government to get its act together. Richard L. Reece, MD, thinks we're seeing the beginnings of a physician empowerment movement. Fed up with battling reimbursement cuts and waiting for a top-down solution to the broken healthcare system, physicians are mobilizing, innovating, and finally finding their collective voice, he says.

He cites involvement in online communities and increased political involvement as examples of physician empowerment, as well as physician-led practice innovations. Today's physician leaders want to focus on patient care, but to do so they are becoming more business savvy and taking an interest in the legal and political aspects of healthcare.

Take Barry L. Gross, MD, executive vice president and chief medical officer of Riverside Health System; when his organization faced some of the systemic problems that many practices encounter--physician shortages, crumbling reimbursement, Stark constraints--it used joint ventures and physician employment to transform into what he calls a "physician-centric health system."

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