Doctor bucks the trend with private practice
The Norman Rockwell family doctor is fading fast, it appears.
By 2013, studies have found, less than one-third of U.S. physicians are expected to remain in private practice. Patients may increasingly find that being treated by physicians in private, small practice settings is a thing of the past.
Dr. Chris Shaffer is Austin's own exception to the rule.
After working as a physician at the local clinic for about 22 years, then spending 18 months at the Smart Clinic in Sterling Drug, Shaffer has set out on his own.
He's had about six months to adjust to being his own boss at Quick Care in the Austin Town Center, near Target. His only employee is his wife, Debbie, who fills the role of business manager at the walk-in practice.
"It's different, and I enjoy working for myself," Shaffer said. "It allows me to do what I want in terms of charges or followups and things."
Less formal setting
Those terms likely will be more attractive to his patients, as well.
"Our goal was to open an office that provides an inexpensive alternative to urgent care or the ER, or some of the (doctor) office visits," he said.
"For me, if I see somebody and make a diagnosis, I usually have them follow back up, and there's no fee for that," Shaffer said. "I figure if it's something that requires multiple visits, I always thought that was kind of unfair to charge them for the multiple visits."
The business operates on an "informal appointment" basis, with a maximum wait of about 15 minutes — if any — he said.
"If people want to set a time, we usually say yes," Shaffer said, "but you don't have to."
The cases he sees are less complex, both by choice and by restriction.
He conducts simple office tests, such as strep throat or cholesterol screenings, pregnancy tests or urinalyses, and he retains privileges at Mayo Clinic Health System in Austin for X-rays and lab work.
Business is improving nearly every day, Shaffer said, but the challenge of dealing with insurance companies doesn't get easier.
"We give a great big discount for cash," he said, "and sometimes it's cheaper to have a great big deductible than send it through insurance."
Shaffer accepts patients with Medicaid and Minnesota UCare; those without insurance are charged a flat $69 office fee. Immunizations and lab work are extra, but "if they're strapped for cash, they can work out a payment plan," he said.
While his patient base ranges from pediatrics to geriatrics, the patient load remains manageable.
"I've been talking to some of the folks at express clinics that got so overwhelmed that they went to appointments," Shaffer said. "If we get to that point, it's probably a good signal that we need to get somebody else in."
That could include another physician, a physician's assistant or a nurse practitioner, he said.
So, was this a business decision or did it have more altruistic roots?
"I guess (altruism) is a big part of it," Shaffer said. "If you don't do it for that, you get burned out real quickly. Being from the old school, my No. 1 priority is still the patients. It's fun, I'm not under any restraints at all and I just try to do the best I can to satisfy folks who are ill."