As the healthcare landscape continues to evolve, physicians are branching out into new practice models that fit their unique needs and preferences. One of the practice models growing in popularity is the Independent Practice Association, or IPA. So what is an IPA, and how does it differ from other established practice models?

Below are five things you as a physician candidate and healthcare provider need to know about Independent Practice Associations – and whether or not joining one will be the right choice for you.

 

1. Leverage with Insurance Companies

Better reimbursement rates are one of the reasons many private practices have been joining larger groups and health systems. With a larger volume of patients and more local providers, many larger health systems are able to utilize their larger market share in order to negotiate better rates with insurance companies. With an IPA, the association negotiates on behalf of the member practices in order use the larger size of an IPA as leverage when negotiating reimbursement rates with insurers, much like a large health system. Additionally, member practices are still able to contract with insurers that are not part of the IPA.

 

2. Access to Administrative Resources

Many physicians choose to be employed by a large health system in part to minimize many of the administrative activities needed to remain compliant – and the costs associated with them. The same can be done by joining an independent practice association, allowing member practices to eliminate the duplication of expenses such as office management, EMR compliance, case management, and care coordination by pooling resources. 

 

3. Leadership Structure

Unlike many health systems and hospitals, IPAs are generally physician-led. Because o this, the leadership understands the unique challenges and preferences of other providers. This often leads to higher satisfaction among member physicians than would be found in an employed position at an organization that is not led by physicians.

 

4. Maintaining Independence

Even though IPAs offer practices resources often provided by large systems, each member practice stays independently owned and operated. This gives each physician increased flexibility and independence, which is what many sought when entering private practice. The support and stability provided by the IPA also means that practices are safe from the pressure to be purchased by a larger group or health system that many private practices face.

5. Accountable Care

Depending on the type of Independent Practice Association a physician joins, their practice may be able to readily convert to an ACO model. Many IPAs, especially those along the west coast, negotiate managed care contracts under a capitated service agreement, allowing them to easily shift to the Accountable Care Organization model as they are accustomed to capitated risk-sharing models.

 

Key Take Aways:

  • IPAs offer physicians the independence and flexibility of private practice with the support often offered only by large health systems.
  • IPA member practices can benefit from the leverage of the IPA in negotiating with insurers while also allowing practices to contract with outside insurance companies.
  • Being physician-led often means physicians in IPAs are more satisfied with their practices than those employed by large groups or health systems.