Economic uncertainty, healthcare issues have hit nation's cardiologists, survey shows

The economic uncertainty and healthcare issues affecting millions of Americans have hit the nation's cardiologists as well, according to a new survey:  they are seeing more "baby boomer" patients than ever as Americans get older and demand more care.   But they are being reimbursed less for those services by Medicare and insurance firms, in what one cardiologist calls "a revenue roller coaster of uncertainty."

The results are from a new survey from MedAxiom, a subscription-based service provider and information resource that provides benchmarking and performance data to cardiology practices to help them improve organizational focus, efficiency and profitability.

Specifically, this survey, the largest quantifiable one of its kind, confirms that older Americans are relying more on medical specialists, such as cardiologists, to address their specific healthcare needs.  The number of patients seeking specialty heart care continues to grow; cardiologists surveyed by MedAxiom reported that they each saw an average of 343 new patients in 2009, continuing an increasing trend of the past several years.  Perhaps just as important is the upwards trend in return visits; cardiologists saw an average of 1,700 return appointments last year with existing patients.  This is the highest yearly number yet recorded, indicating an ongoing commitment to providing consistent, high quality healthcare.

Practices reporting data to MedAxiom also reported increases in several key cardiology tests, conducted both in-office and at hospitals. "This is largely due to the growth in the total number of patients being seen by cardiologists," said Patrick White, MedAxiom's president.  "It's not because cardiologists are doing more tests per patient.  Conversely, we have seen cardiologists become more effective in their use of technology to produce the best results."  White noted that even as reimbursements for tests continue to drop, cardiologists reduced their operating costs on 2009 in a successful effort to minimize their losses.

Further results from the MedAxiom survey include:

  • Hospital admissions per cardiologist continued their downward trend over the five-year period, indicating cardiologists' commitment to better, lower cost outpatient care.
  • The average number of treadmill tests per cardiologist fell to their lowest level in a decade, but stress echocardiogram tests increased to their highest level, with an average of four percent of all patients undergoing such stress testing.
  • Cardiologists performed five percent more nuclear studies in 2009 (280) than they did in 2008, the highest number in three years.  But that increase directly correlates with the increase in the number of patients seen; on average, nuclear studies were performed on one of every seven patients, the same as in the previous two years.

The survey also found that America's cardiologists are modifying their operations and an increasing number are merging practices with each other as well as folding into larger health care organizations to ensure long-term financial stability, while ensuring that patients' needs continue to be met. "Smaller and midsized firms will face economic pressures to merge with larger firms or hospital practices. All practices will have to address the best ways to balance providing more personalized service to a growing number of patients seeking cardiac care in a cost-effective fashion," said White.

"We are optimistic about the future of cardiology, despite the significant negative impact of administrative and legislative regulation. More people need – and want – the type of quality, specialty care that cardiologists are capable of providing," White added.



The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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