Don’t Keep Up With the Joneses

March 19, 2009

When one of your neighbors gets a new swimming pool or car, what usually happens? Inevitably, someone else in the neighborhood will go one better and buy a bigger “toy.

When one of your neighbors gets a new swimming pool or car, what usually happens? Inevitably, someone else in the neighborhood will go one better and buy a bigger “toy.” This type of one-upmanship is human nature: We want to be viewed as successful.

The same behavior too often happens in medical practices. Physicians often listen in to the medical grapevine to see what ancillary service their colleagues are having success with, or perhaps get the scoop on that new piece of imaging equipment they’ve purchased. There’s always that little voice that says “You need to keep up!”

Don’t listen to it.

In this time of economic uncertainty, the most important thing you can do is focus on what you do well. Identify your core competencies; excel in these services and your practice sends a strong message to patients that they can count on the continued quality, compassion, and care that you have always provided.

Healthcare is not “recession proof” but the industry does tend to lag behind the rest of the economy; the recession seen in so many sectors may not have fully hit healthcare yet, but it will. This is why it is imperative that you not stray from your core competencies in the spirit of keeping up with the Joneses.

Over the past couple of years, there has been a trend toward adding ancillary services with the understanding that these services would increase practice revenues, and in some cases make the care process easier for patients. Most often, practices were seduced into expanding their services because someone else did it, or they attended a seminar that suggested this would be a sure thing. And, if the big practice down the street did it, then you knew you were making the right move.

Unfortunately, many practices that start a new endeavor pay limited attention to the particulars, such as cost vs. benefit, financing, staffing, training, and a host of other details that are involved in starting a new service. There’s that insidious assumption that if Practice A did it, then we can do it. However, in reality, adding a new service might just add new stress and possible financial loss.

Consider the experience of a primary-care office I recently visited: The practice purchased a bone densitometer with the goal of beating out a rival. Now the machine sits in an exam room, mostly gathering dust. It clearly has not paid for itself and probably won’t, especially when you factor in labor costs and time lost for training. If the practice had first analyzed its patient demographics and payer mix, the chances are that they would not have gone ahead with this costly decision.

It is always best to consider all the facts based on your practice’s mission before you move ahead with any addition. Don’t be tempted to compete with the Joneses; by staying true to your core competencies you’ll benefit not only your patients, but your practice. Take pride in meeting the needs of your patients and staying true to your mission of quality, compassion, and care.

Owen Dahl, FACHE, CHBC,is a nationally recognized medical practice management consultant with more than 26 years of experience in consulting for and managing medical practices. He is the author of “Think Business! Medical Practice Quality, Efficiency, Profits” and “The Medical Practice Disaster Planning Workbook.” He can be reached at odahl@owendahlconsulting.com.