If your practice is getting overwhelmed with patients, you may need a new doctor. But proceed with caution,
Across the United States, big increases in patient loads are expected over the next several months, and recent surveys indicate that many doctors plan to retire or reduce their hours in the next year or two. So how will physician practices-many of which are already stretched to the limit-meet the demand?
Many practices are looking to add more doctors. While such a step could add variety to your available healthcare services, bring in new sources of revenue, and take some pressure off the current staff, it isn’t easy to do. So before you and your partners make such an important decision, consider these questions:
What is our goal? Decide what problem you’re trying to solve. Let’s say you want to offer better quality healthcare to your patients and reduce your physicians’ workload. If you and your partners are seeing as many patients as you can but still have a packed waiting room, then adding a new physician is probably the right answer.
Is there enough work? Just because the physicians in your practice may feel as though they’re working long and hard, that doesn’t mean there are enough patients to keep additional doctors just as busy. In some cases, it makes more sense to add a nonphysician healthcare provider, such as a physician assistant or nurse practitioner. And Michael J. Reilly, a CPA who specializes in healthcare issues, says that such providers can handle many of the routine issues at a much lower salary than a physician, allowing the doctors to focus on more complex (and higher-reimbursement) issues.
Who will cover for whom? It’s best to have a call coverage plan in mind. If one physician in a three-doctor practice is out, the other two can usually cover without major problems, and patients won’t mind being seen by another doctor because they probably know him or her. Things get more complicated, though, in larger practices with more patients, especially in multispecialty groups.
Once you’ve discussed the answers to these questions and if you still believe you’re ready to bring on a new physician or two, here are some tips for making a smart decision about whom to add:
Choose someone who’s a good fit. Think about the professional and personal characteristics of the ideal candidate, and whether he or she will fit in with the way your practice operates and its goals for the future. Will he work well with your other physicians and staff? Does she bring a particular clinical expertise that you’d like to add (say, a new procedure that you’d like to offer)?
Check out credentials. Thoroughly check a person’s references. “The new doctor’s credentials, malpractice history and hospital medical staff status should be reviewed,” Wayne J. Miller, an attorney with Compliance Law Group in Thousand Oaks, Calif, told Medical Office Today. “The doctor should be checked out in national databanks for malpractice and to make sure he not an excluded or ‘debarred’ provider under governmental payment programs.”
Make sure there’s enough room. Just because you’re overburdened with patients doesn’t mean you have the space to handle more. Consider whether you have enough exam rooms to accommodate additional providers and a big enough waiting room for more patients. Also, if the new physician will provide ancillary services, make a plan as to where those services will be performed.
After you choose a new physician, don’t forget to let the community know. Some thoughtful marketing will not only help the new doctor grow a patient base, but also promote your practice. Healthcare consultant and author Judy Capko says, “The smart practice will prepare a marketing plan and budget for the finances essential to help Dr. Newbie create a desirable presence. This includes offering community lectures, personal meetings with potential referring sources, and actively being involved in the medical community.”