Four Ways Your Practice Can Stay Ahead of the Curve
LARRY SOPHIAN, CPA, MBA
Medical practices must continually adapt to a rapidly changing environment — whether in terms of technology, payment and reimbursement, or patient care. Here are four ways to help your practice stay ahead of the curve:
- Stay Up to Date on Continuing Medical Education and Business Trends
Doing so may require you to carve out more time to read both medical journals and business-related publications. Budget and make time for some combination of webinars, seminars and conferences, as well. Time may be the most difficult thing to find but, in terms of staying ahead of the changing medical and business/regulatory environment, you will be better off both as a physician and a business owner if you embark on the search.
- Choose Appropriate Technology
By now, most physicians are aware that technology can be both a help and a hindrance. Adopting electronic medical records and practice management software did not necessarily make practices profitable or solve various ongoing inefficiencies. Some of those inadequacies are related to unrealistic expectations set by vendors and regulators, while others arise because of inadequate training or not taking into consideration how workflow might have to adapt to technology. When acquiring new technology, make sure that you provide the time and resources for you and appropriate staff members to learn how to use it. If possible, customize the technology to adapt to the specific needs of your practice. In addition, give some thought on how to better integrate technology into the practice to accomplish your goals.
- Use Multiple Channels of Communication
Face-to-face communication with staff, colleagues and patients is still the best way to communicate. But other options for communicating include emails, memos, texts and mobile apps. Many feel that “flooding the zone” — in other words, using many different channels to communicate — is the best approach to reach everyone. At the same time, it is important to keep in mind that too many messages can be overwhelming for the people you are trying to reach. If possible, find out the communication preferences of the people you are trying to reach, and communicate with them in that way.
- Simplify, Simplify, Simplify
Are some processes in your medical practice unnecessarily complicated? Are some procedures in your practice being done too often or in a more complicated way than necessary? Could some processes be automated? For example, when using the electronic health records, you might want to count the number of clicks it takes to complete a certain task. Some physicians have found that, by eliminating a single click per procedure, they can decrease the original number of clicks by 50 to 75 clicks per week. This seems minor, but it can really add up to huge time and energy savings.
There is no indication that change in health care is going to slow down. But taking a few steps to anticipate and deal with change can go a long way toward decreasing stress and improving efficiency.
Avoiding Staffing Shortages in Your Medical Practice
As time passes, a practice will probably experience a staffing shortage at least once and, most likely, multiple times. To prevent negative effects on the practice via revenue, workloads, staff morale and patient care, practice managers should plan for the time when a staffing shortage occurs. Cross-training employees, hiring temporary staff, utilizing float pools and maintaining vigilance all enable a practice to maintain high patient care while dealing with shortage in staff.
Not all employees can be cross-trained, but many can. Each staff member can be trained for at least one additional job, and possibly two. The practice should be upfront about the intent to cross-train by telling interviewees and new hires to expect cross-training to be part of their employment.
Areas that do well with cross-training are duties related to the front desk and billing and collection. Back office staff can be trained to handle front-desk duties during staff shortages. Cross-training helps practices avoid spending extra money to hire temporary staff.
Hiring Temporary Staff
When cross-training does not fully cover the need for staffing, hiring temporary staff is a quick solution, although often expensive. Temporary staff often cost medical practices 50% more than regular staff, often becoming more expensive than paying a current staff member overtime. In addition to cost, many practice managers believe the temporary staff’s loyalty to the temp agency instead of the practice is a negative.
Despite the negatives, temporary staff are often highly skilled and flexible. Not only do temp staff aid in fulfilling tasks, but they also help prevent permanent staff members from becoming overworked and burnt out during staff shortages.
Utilizing Float Pools
Traditionally, float pools are utilized in hospitals and consist of nurses that travel between departments based on which one needs staffing. For a private medical practice, a float pool would consist of those individuals the practice manager knows can be called upon during staffing shortages.
The individuals included in the float pool are usually fully employed in jobs outside of the medical practice but are interested in extra income. These reliable individuals could be friends of current staff or colleagues. They could also be former valuable employees who worked out well but left the practice for some other reason. To build a float pool of former employees, practice managers should ask them when they leave the practice if they would be available during staffing shortages and other emergencies and should keep in touch with those individuals who say yes.
Now that the possibility of a staffing shortage is a consideration, practice managers should keep it in mind as a potential problem, keep a watch out for it and have a plan in place for when it does occur. Oftentimes, the practice manager will know in advance of future shortages, such as during an employee’s maternity leave, and should have time to prepare. Staffing shortages will occur. However, with forethought and planning, practice managers can respond in a way that avoids over-burdening current staff while still maintaining top-level patient care.