Connections for Success

 

07.22.20

Staying Solvent — and Maybe Even Profitable — in Tough Times
Laurence Sophian

Maintaining profitability is a challenge for medical practices in the best of times. When the economy undergoes a sudden and unforeseen downturn it can be hard for any business, including a physician practice, to stay afloat.

What is worse, you may find coping with economic change even more difficult because of the constantly shifting Medicare, Medicaid and health insurance landscape. Here are some ways to stay solvent — and maybe even profitable — during these tough times.

Manage administrative burdens

In looking at the top challenges that medical practices face (other than those caused by the COVID-19 pandemic), first on the list might be administrative burdens. Most doctors go into medicine because they love science and medicine — and they want to help people directly. You may not have expected to spend so much time filling out forms and figuring out how to run a profitable practice.

While administrative burdens are not likely to go away, there are some potential solutions. These include staying current with business trends and creating standard operational procedures and routines. It is also important to train and empower select staff members to handle most business-related activities — so you can concentrate on practicing medicine. Finally, stay current with the various COVID-19 relief provisions to determine whether you are eligible to benefit from them.

The decision of whether to opt for maintaining an independent practice versus joining a health care system is another significant challenge many physicians face. Currently, there is a trend toward consolidation into larger group practices, thus enabling physicians to leverage size without having to work for hospitals. This option also allows physicians to share resources — which can go a long way toward relieving the administrative burdens. But, for some physicians, hospital work may be the way to go. It all depends on your personality, energy and focus.

One of the biggest headaches for physicians is the need to do battle with payers and it is unlikely that this problem will go away soon. However, having a lean practice with motivated and trained staffers who are incentivized to stay on top of billing and payer issues can go a long way toward easing the pain. Size matters in negotiations with payers so, again, group practices or regional networks may help to make this situation more manageable.

Emphasize your expertise

The advent of the Internet and easy access to health care information — regardless of how inaccurate or uninformed it is — can complicate the doctor-patient relationship. It can be hard to balance practicing good medicine with handling patients who attempt to dictate their own health care. This is particularly true in an atmosphere in which patients may be getting more information from the Internet to minimize in-person encounters and institutions using positive feedback as a major metric for salaries and bonuses.

It is important for physicians to be firm in clarifying doctor-patient roles. Sometimes “no” is the appropriate response. And sometimes, like parenting, practicing medicine involves using “tough love” to get your message across (within reason and without risking legal repercussions, of course).

Empower your staff

Keeping staff is a common challenge. Recruiting and retaining skilled staff — from the receptionist to physician partners — can be tricky. Studies indicate that high pay and benefits are not the only reasons people stay in a job (though to be fair, they will generally appreciate those things).

A key to staff retention is often related to empowerment — letting staff be in charge of their duties and showing them that what they do is important and appreciated. Rewards for good results can be both creative and meaningful and does not necessarily have to be a raise. Ideas to consider include extra paid time off, flexible schedules and employee recognition rewards (such as gift cards).

Beware of legal liability

Finally, a top headache is liability. Some states and specialties are hit particularly hard by liability insurance. Sometimes this issue drives physicians out of private practice into health care systems, because those systems typically pick up the tab for liability insurance.

If there is a solution here, it is for doctors to practice defensive medicine, erring on the side of caution.  Although ordering more diagnostic procedures may drive up costs, physicians who do so may lessen the risk of litigation.

Survive and thrive

In the era of COVID-19 and all the related fallout from the pandemic, it is easy to lose sight of these commonsense ways to keep your medical practice head above water. But sound management methods work — both in good times and bad. Using them can help your practice survive in the short term and thrive in the future.

For more information, contact Larry Sophian at lsophian@orba.com or 312.670.7444. Visit ORBA.com to learn more about our Health Care Group.

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