How COVID-19 upended a practice's 35-year-old business model in 2 weeks

Eric Oliver - Print  |

The COVID-19 pandemic is devastating private practice gastroenterologists, resulting in layoffs, reduced hours and decreased salaries to try and stay afloat, MDedge reports.

Will Bulsiewicz, MD, a Charleston, S.C.-based gastroenterologist, said the pandemic upended his 35-year-old practice in two weeks. Dr. Bulsiewicz used to see 22 patients a day or performed around 16 daily procedures. Now he sees between zero and six patients daily via telemedicine, and endoscopy volume has dropped by more than 90 percent across his three-physician practice.

It's not only hurting private, independent practices either. James Leavitt, MD, is a gastroenterologist with private equity-backed Miami-based Gastro Health. Dr. Leavitt told MDedge his 17-clinician group has furloughed half of its staff. The practice went from seeing 150 patients daily to five or fewer. Endoscopy volume, too, has dropped from 100 procedures a day to around five procedures a day.

And while these practices are turning to telemedicine to attempt to fill the void, gastroenterology doesn't lend itself to the platform as easily as other specialties do because of the internal nature of the diseases gastroenterologists treat.

Independent practices are on life support, said Rajeev Jain, MD, a Dallas-based gastroenterologist. Dr. Jain said if government financial assistance programs don't roll out fast enough, he fears "a death to small, independent practices because they're not going to have the financial wherewithal to tolerate this for too long."

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