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Physicians may understand they need help with certain practice issues, but may not know to go about securing that help. Here's how to get started.
As a consultant, my job is not just to help clients to solve business problems, but also to help educate clients on the best ways to maximize their return on the investment they are making for our services.
Naturally some physicians are afraid to use consultants. They may know that they need help with their practice but are often concerned about costs, and frankly, how to even go about engaging one!
1. Do you need a consultant?
Consultants are best utilized for highly specialized areas, such as insurance contract negotiations, succession planning, strategic business planning, coding audits, practice assessments, practice valuations, mergers, practice start-ups, EHR selection, and those sorts of occasional, single-need projects. If you have needs like these, hiring an experienced expert who knows how to do it right will be worth your investment.
Do not use consultants for things like billing and credentialing, day-to-day management and finance, and human resource management. These are longer-term, daily activities, and as such, you should either hire the in-house experience you need or outsource these functions altogether.
2. What's the difference between outsourcing and using a consultant?
Consultants are usually highly specialized professionals who focus on specific, singular issues and help you to implement solutions. Engagements are usually short term in nature, and designed to produce results in a set period of time, for example, contract negotiations. Pricing is usually based on an hourly rate reflective of the consultant's experience and qualifications.
If you have daily needs that are ongoing, such as patient billing or human resource management, there are many companies to which you can outsource those functions effectively. You will typically sign a service agreement and usually engage the company for a period of at least a year. Pricing for these services are based on long-term contracts and calculated across volume. If would be much more expensive to utilize a consultant to perform these sorts of administrative functions for you.
3. Finding a consultant
Ask your colleagues. There is no better referral than from a colleague who has worked with a consultant and can vouch for the quality of the work undertaken on his behalf. You can also call your medical society; many societies have a process for evaluating consultants before they will add them to their referral lists. If your office manager is a member of the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA), you can source consultants from that association too. If the consultants listed are too broadly categorized, it can also be helpful to search the internet and see what companies specialize in the specific areas in which you need help.
4. Engaging a consultant
Once you have identified a consultant that you wish to contact, make sure that you have a solid outline of your most pressing concerns, and the areas you think you need the most assistance in. A good consultant will want to discuss your needs thoroughly before developing a proposal for you. During that process the issue you think you have may actually be a symptom of deeper problem. Talking through your needs with a consultant first will allow you both to determine the most efficient and effective course of action to take.
5. Signing a contract
Most professionals will clearly indicate the services to be performed on your behalf, identifying clear milestones, developing a set timeline, and listing any information that you will need to provide during the course of the engagement (for example, profit and loss statements, or accounts receivable files, and so on). The contract will also clearly list any costs, when payments are due, and how you will be billed for those services. If detail is missing, ask that the scope of work be clearly detailed in the agreement. You may need to go back to the scope during the course of the engagement to ensure that everything is on track and moving along timely.
6. Working together
To me, the best engagements are those in which the client views me as a helpful partner and is willing to be as involved as possible. While it may be tempting to move the issue off your desk and onto the consultant's, it is better to collaborate throughout the engagement and make sure that the work being performed on your behalf is consistent with your wishes. If you aren't sure why a project is moving in a certain direction or the basis behind certain decisions, ask questions until you have a complete understanding.
Effectively delivering on the scope of work is always the goal. But from my view, helping physicians to learn how to better evaluate business decisions going forward and sharing expertise throughout any engagement is always the best utilization of my time.
Susanne Madden, MBA,is founder and CEO of The Verden Group, a consulting and business intelligence firm that specializes in practice management, physician education, and healthcare policy. She is also COO, National Breastfeeding Center, and cofounder, Patient Centered Solutions. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by visiting www.theverdengroup.com.