November 5, 2012

Why Some Medical Practices Are Successful

Defining and discerning why medical practices are successful or even wildly successful is more difficult than often why they fail. While it does not require a masters in business administration, it does require understanding some business principals. Here is a list of reasons some medical practices are doing so well and being very successful:

It is treated as a business – meaning that the decisions made about staffing and duties of staff are well defined and often some staff members are cross trained to cover more than just one facet of the duties. Office managers know how to motivate office staff and make them want to be more efficient and productive.

The rules of HIPAA are laid out and everyone understands them and knows the consequences of violating them. This also means they know the rules and don't try to hide behind them and hide essential patient information from that patient. I even had one nurse say no to me about discussing a medication with my wife, even after I directed her to because my wife is a certified medications aid and I wanted to know what she thought. The nurse said no a second time and I said “lawsuit”. She panicked and went to get a second opinion and came back very apologetic and explained the medication to both of us. My wife had her PDA with the drug information on it. She said no that the medication had sulfa in it and I was allergic to sulfa. The nurse was going to give me the prescription anyway and I said I would be in the hospital and maybe not even make it when I could not breath. With that she brought the doctor back and when he heard that I was severely allergic to sulfa drugs, he said that would not work and issued another prescription after talking with my wife.

There is no substitute for an entrepreneurial spirit. This means not focusing on the problems of our current healthcare system, but looking for opportunities to work with what we have and making it work for you. It is not waiting for organic growth, but being positive and seeking out new opportunities to grow and raise revenue.

Have a strategy and a plan that is understood and followed by everyone. It does not matter the simplicity or how complex the strategy and plan is, it is presented and explained to everyone until it is understood. This means that the strategy and plan are open to discussion and if someone sees something that could be improved, it will be discussed and a change made if it is beneficial. This often converts people to the system and creates a willingness for people to work harder.  Visibility is imperative to growing the practice. This means visible in the community, doing some advertising, and even volunteering for community events when possible. Every community activity is not necessary, but if members of your practice have community interests, encourage them to participate in that interest. Let people know about the practice and do not hide from this.

A world of potential in reliable data is often available, but unless it is used, it will not help generate a profit. Do not guess what something costs, when payers will make a payment, or which payers are problem payers and use the information available to correct the problem. Practice management programs can produce volumes of raw data, but unless it is properly programed, the data means nothing and is wasted information. The same can be said for electronic patient data. If something can be added to present the data in a more usable form – make it happen.

A patient-centered culture makes a difference and this should be nurtured and practiced to the utmost. While some physician-owners believe this will take care of itself, those that are successful do not make this assumption and strive every day to cultivate this unified patient-centered culture. The physician-owners exemplify this when they hire to find new doctors and staff that share their goals and work ethic. It is their desire that every time a patient has contact with the practice, they feel that the practice has their best interests front and center.

Strong leaders and an outstanding staff is part of a successful practice, but only if they work well together and as a unit. Great physicians do not micromanage. Instead they hire capable staff and see to it that they stay current in their training, surround them with updated technological tools to assist them in being efficient in their work and handling everyday tasks of making the practice profitable. Strong leaders can step back knowing that they are spending 95% of their time seeing the patients. The other 5% is spent monitoring and checking the state of the business, in other words focusing on the big picture and what will be advantageous for the practice. Successful practices will use physician assistants and nurse practitioners to expand their services and provide excellent care thus earning a high return.

Willingness to create helpful partners when needed is a hallmark of a successful practice. These practices know when to seek expert advice and make efficient use of it. Often this means using outside practice management and communications services. These services often can create more efficient and improved customer care.
Great doctors are continually working to be more efficient, productive, and disciplined with their time usage. They rely on effective practice management tools to boost efficiency and productivity. When physicians and staff are more efficient with their time, the improved work flow creates a more professional, calm environment, which benefits staff and patients in many ways.

As a patient, I admit that I enjoy keeping some of my appointments because I know that I can see the efficiency and work flow progressing smoothly. If the doctor had an unforeseen situation arise, no excuses are being made, and the facts are presented – like a patient needed to be admitted to the hospital or the doctor needed to spend more time with a patient. This is presented and they keep working and when the doctor arrives, you are not treated differently or made to feel they will be curtailing the time spent with you.

Those that I don't enjoy (aside from not feeling good to begin with) always have an excuse for everything and leave you wondering if they know what to do and why. The doctor tries to be calm, but if he is operating behind schedule, you get the feeling that he is trying to short cut the appointment to get to the next patient.

This is bound to happen in every practice – a patient fails to keep an appointment and the doctor has time available. This is one reason I generally try to be early to all my appointments and more than once was able to get in early. One doctor took time to thank me and say that I and the next patient were early and thus they would be able to schedule a patient from the call list that was local and could get in timely.

So if you are the patient and are able to discern what is happening, cherish those where you are the center of their world for the time allotted and realize that even then they can have interruptions.

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