When it comes to money, doctors are like everybody else. They want lots of it and they need a plan to hang onto it. That is always easier said than done. Bureaucracy has its talons digging deep into the pockets of healthcare providers, perhaps more than in any other industry. The constant tug of war between governmental control over payment schedules alongside increasing practice expenses while still needing to provide for family and plan for the future is sending doctors into a tailspin.
In fact, the Tampa-based American College of Physician Executives' 2006 Physician Morale Survey shows that nearly 60 percent of the 1,205 physicians who participated in the survey have considered leaving practice because they are discouraged. Most of the disillusionment is due to low reimbursement, loss of autonomy, bureaucratic red tape, and patient overload and loss of respect. In 2003, a United States Senate Republican Policy Committee reported another financial crisis that doctors are facing: the exorbitant rate of malpractice insurance due to increased medical liability, leaving more and more insurers deeming the practice of medicine "uninsurable."
While bankers or investment groups can't do anything to control those issues, there is a correlation between the decisions made and financial success. Medical specialty groups can take a big bite out of those negative equations by helping physicians' income work for them toward their professional and personal goals. Therefore, more and more physicians are opting to stick with what they know best – medical care – and to let financial advisors do what they do best – manage their money. Finding that trusting relationship and a good team that will work on your behalf is the first step.
Kathy Carr, client advisor with SunTrust Medical Specialty Group in Tampa Bay in the Hillsborough County region, said teamwork between professionals insures a unified, directed approach to financial planning.
"Our doctors are very busy and don't have time to do their own financial planning and most don't have a road map to follow to reach their financial goals," Carr said. "When they meet with a financial advisor, they can help determine their goals, where they want to be in five, 10 or 20 years. Having a road map is the only way to create and preserve wealth."
Carr also offered this advice to healthcare providers: "Stop buying from brokers just because it's hot. Physicians need to see where they want to be financially and how they're going to get there. I've seen a lot of scams out there that say they are foolproof, so I would advise them to never take asset protection advice from someone who doesn't have a legal degree. Always defer to your attorney. Having a good team in place, a good financial advisor, a good CPA and a good attorney that can all work together as a team is very important. Asset protection is a huge thing right now."
Carr said there is no cut-and-dried answer to setting goals. There are some physicians who are very risk tolerant and others who are extremely conservative. Then there is the physician with a family whose needs he or she has to plan for, such as the children's education, versus the single doctor who isn't married and never plans to be.
"Having different advisors going in different directions isn't the best way to do financial planning. Everyone needs to work together and most people are open to do that," Carr said.
Trina McCade, vice president and client advisor with SunTrust Medical Specialty Group in Pinellas County, also stressed the importance of planning through an expert who knows your business.
"Our medical specialty group is within our private wealth management line of business," McCade said. "We primarily deal with large medical groups, individual physicians, their practices, HMOs, hospitals, and anyone in the healthcare industry. Our client advisors are medical specialists, meaning they are not only given continuing education in financial services, but also kept abreast of current medical issues. That helps us be more proactive rather than reactive of what's happening out there in the medical community."
McCade said, for example, the new HIPAA law requiring all healthcare providers to have an NPI (National Provider Identifier) number by May 23 is putting financial pressure on medical practices to purchase updated software. The federal initiative is supposed to improve proficiency and effectiveness of the electronic transmission of healthcare records.
"Without an NPI number, they won't be able to bill anyone. Billing will completely shut down," McCade said. "Knowing that physicians are having these issues, we're able to be prepared when they call in, in a panic, because their computer system is so old it can't handle the new NPI number. We've already talked to our credit department and we know they've got to have a computer system that can handle the new NPI number, so we've got solutions. We've got quick financial strategies and are ready to advise them to help them upgrade their software or buy an entire new hardware system if they need it.
"There are some new systems for electronic medical records that cost several hundred thousand dollars and some physicians decide to go that route because it's all complete and will accept the NPI numbers. We know that doctors are typically highly leveraged because they're spending what they're bringing in and don't often have that much money in reserve.
"Physicians are facing financial constraints. They have to see more patients because they're being reimbursed less. Being knowledgeable of all these issues helps us help them in their financial planning. There is a trend in financial planning to be specialized with a certain group of people. By doing that, you can really understand that group's needs and better serve them."