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The Top 10 Physician Trends in 2020

January 15, 2020

The Top 10 Physician Trends in 2020

By Debra Wood, contributor

Practicing medicine is never boring, yet the pace of change in recent years has been beyond most practitioners’ expectations. Technology innovations, regulatory mandates, workforce challenges and personal stressors—there is always something to keep a doctor on his or her toes.

So what can physicians expect to see in 2020?

Two things that experts can agree on is that medicine remains an in-demand profession in an ever-changing health care system. Let’s take a look at some of the trends they predict will affect physicians practicing medicine in 2020 and beyond.

Want a new place to practice in 2020? Browse thousands of physician jobs.

10 key trends affecting physicians in 2020

1. Physician shortages will continue

The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) reports that by 2032, the demand for physicians will exceed supply by as many as 121,900 full-time equivalent physicians. In large part, this is due to the growth in the number of older adults, who use more health care. Even more concerning, an additional 95,900 doctors would be needed immediately in the U.S. if utilization patterns were equalized.

That demand will lead to more opportunities for individual jobseekers, including new physicians who are fielding dozens of job offers, according to the 2019 Survey of Final-Year Medical Residents by Merritt Hawkins.

2. Employment vs. ownership opportunities

The American Medical Association reported in 2019 that for the first time, more physicians are employees rather than owners of a practice. This physician trend is expected to continue. For instance, Orlando Health in Florida recently purchased the 30-physician practice of Jewett Orthopaedic, also in Orlando.

However, Modern Healthcare reported last year that some physicians are leaving hospital employment and striking out on their own, and Forbes indicated an increase in private equity investments in specialty practices.

3. Specialists needed

Recruiters report that the demand for physician specialists continues to increase, a fact that is reflected in Merritt Hawkins’ comprehensive salary and job market report, the 2019 Review of Physician and Advanced Practitioner Recruiting Incentives. The company had more recruiting assignments for specialists than primary care physicians this past year. Shortages are occurring in surgery, psychiatry, geriatrics, infectious disease and other specialties.

Additionally, AAMC expects a shortage of up to 67,000 specialists by 2032.

4. Increases in physician salaries

Physicians in many specialties earned more in 2018/2019 than in 2017/2018, according to the Merritt Hawkins report.

“We expect demand to remain strong in 2020, and that health systems and group practices will continue to raise salaries and benefits to attract the best and brightest physicians,” said Tom Florence, executive vice president of Merritt Hawkins.

Check out the year-to-year starting salary comparisons for the top 20 specialties recruited.

5. Value-based care

While fee-for-service reimbursement for medical care continues to dominate, health care will evolve to embrace more value-based care, said Amel Hammad, MBA, MHA, managing director of the consulting firm Conway MacKenzie in Chicago. That will lead to fewer battles with insurers, because the physician or group will have consistent revenue streams.

“The risk will be put on the provider through capitated payments, for example, managed with per-member, per-month payments, with incentives focused on positive outcomes,” Hammad said. “As such, it is imperative that cost containment occur, costs to provide care be lowered, and measures are taken to track and maximize care.”

Among organizations offering physicians a production bonus last year, 56 percent were based in whole or in part on value-based metrics, such as patient satisfaction and outcome measures—up from 43 percent the previous year, according to the 2019 Merritt Hawkins report.

Successfully adapting to value-based care will require more team care, with patients meeting with a dietician, a physician therapist or other professionals who can deliver expertise at a lower cost, Hammad explained.

Additionally, “for individuals who are comfortable with technology, these interactions and encounters can happen through other methodologies, such as telephone, Skype, instant messaging and others,” Hammad said.

6. Virtual visits

Value-based care is a driver of telehealth, but not the only one. Physicians in 2020 will provide more care remotely. Patients want the convenience of televisits, which they can conduct on a mobile device.

“Physicians will win back patients who deserted them for convenient retail clinics and urgent care centers by providing convenient care, for instance, through secure, web-based portals; mobile clinics offering primary and preventative care services; extended office hours; and online scheduling,” said Samant Virk, MD, CEO and co-founder of MediSprout, which offers a secure virtual video product.

“By helping form tighter connections and improve communications, tech will enable patient-centric care that addresses not only the immediate, but the ongoing and long-term needs of patients,” Virk continued.

7. Patient self-monitoring

Patients are tracking their own health with apps and wearables, such as the Apple Watch, a trend not likely to abate. All that information flows to physicians to interpret and act on, if needed.

“This ‘consumerization of healthcare’ will expand, finding its place in the clinical care setting,” said Rich Loomis, MD, chief informatics officer, clinical solutions at Elsevier. “And, as the adoption of collaborative patient–physician tools continue to see an uptick, health systems will realize the positive impacts on the patient–physician relationship.”

8. Integrative care

Patients also are the driving force behind the growth of complementary and alternative medicine. More physicians also are expressing interest in the field.

“2020 will be the year that patients actively seek integrative care rather than rely on pills,” said Michele Renee, DC, MAc, director of integrative care at Northwestern Health Sciences University in Bloomington, Minnesota. “Patients are becoming savvier about the risks of pharmaceuticals. In the past, patients visited doctors for pills to relieve their symptoms, but now there is demand to get to the root of their health problems through better understanding what is happening and making necessary lifestyle changes.”

9. Big data to improve outcomes

Managing an overwhelming amount of data and using artificial intelligence (AI) and predictive analytics is a physician trend for 2020 that is designed to drive value, yet it remains underused, said John Danaher, global president of clinical solutions at Elsevier.

AI technology allows physicians to standardize data and make more informed decisions at the point of care, Danaher explained. “Quality of care will increase and variability of care will decrease, leading to cost reductions for both patients and health systems. Empowering the clinical team with AI technology tools at the point of care will not only improve patient outcomes, but reduce traditional inefficiencies – like paperwork and data entry – for the managing care team.”

10. Precision medicine

Physicians in 2020 can expect to deliver more exact medicine with the growth of precision medicine beyond cancer, in which genetic information is used to customize cancer treatments, said Olaf Lodbrok, senior vice president and general manager of precision medicine, clinical solutions at Elsevier.

“The power of precision medicine will lead the charge in opening a paradigm shift toward other areas of medicine and we will continue to see this impact through 2020,” Lodbrok said.

Practicing medicine in 2020 and the years that follow will require some flexibility, risk taking and a willingness to try new technologies to improve patient outcomes.

“Leveraging innovative tools at our disposal and adopting new ways of thinking will help to forge stronger relationships, build more efficient businesses, and deliver better care for our patients,” Virk concluded.  


Physician Trends to Watch in 2019

8 Key Telehealth Trends in 2019

MERRITT HAWKINS continues to shape the future of physician recruitment and staffing with innovative workforce solutions that benefit both candidates and hiring organizations.

Find your ideal physician job, or learn more about our physician staffing services.


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