In 2004, family physician Lynn Ho opened a medical practice in North Kingstown, R.I., and she decided to go it alone — completely alone. Though she outsources her billing, she employs no other staff members — no receptionist, no nurses, no administrator.
During the first few years following the practice's opening, Ho says she was completely "bombed" with work. "I would sometimes stay until 2 or 3 [a.m.] in the office once a week just trying to get the billing out."
Yet Ho's office is thriving today because she has added tools that she says are vital to keeping her workday moving efficiently and productively.
These tools — such as online appointment booking, e-mailing with patients, and having patients enter medical histories online — allow Ho to spend less time completing administrative tasks and more time seeing patients. "It's extremely important to be efficient," Ho says of running her practice. "The less efficient I am, the later I go home. The more efficient I am, the less I work."
From technology additions (like those Ho put in place), to rearranging staff responsibilities, to cross-training employees, to benchmarking and goal setting — small changes at your practice can help you move forward more efficiently and productively.
If you think your practice is operating as efficiently as possible, think again, says practice management consultant Owen Dahl. "Regardless of specialty, regardless of size of a practice … everyone needs to recognize that they are not as efficient as they could be."
There is always room for improvement, and though it may be tempting to continue running your practice as usual — who really has extra time to seek out improvements when you're already struggling to keep up with your daily workload? — Dahl says taking the time to look for inefficiencies will pay off in the long run.
Finding and eliminating one redundancy in the reception area for example, could reduce each patient visit by one minute. That could add up to an extra 20 minutes per day. "Well, that 20 minutes, that's something you could do something with," Dahl says. And small improvements beget bigger changes. "If we clean up the smaller issues — those that are easier to fix, those that bring a good change — that frees us up with more time available to really take a look at what we can do to improve in other areas," he says.
Practices should start the efficiency improvement process by asking: "What's important to us?" he says. The answer could be reducing patient wait times, increasing the number of patient visits per week, or reducing the amount of time nurses spend on the phone each day. "Identify just one thing that needs to be fixed that you can fix," Dahl says. "Don't tackle the entire practice."
Identify time wasters
Not sure how to get started? Assessment tools can help. They provide a quick and easy way to look at your processes differently, and as a result, they shed new light on how things could be better handled.
Benchmarks. When too many people share the same responsibilities, it wastes time and resources. On the other hand, when employees are stretched thin, tasks are not completed on time. Rob Culbert, president of Culbert Healthcare Solutions, a healthcare consulting firm in Woburn, Mass., recommends determining how your staffing compares to practices of similar sizes and specialties. That can help you "understand where [you] fall on the spectrum of being heavy on the staffing side or light on the staffing side or not having the right people in the right places," he says. Consider using a benchmarking tool, such as the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) Cost Survey report, available for purchase at MGMA.com. It provides average staffing ratios for practices of various sizes and specialties.