As a physician, here’s something you probably know all too well; a pandemic is an exceedingly difficult time to lead an independent medical practice. Just weeks into the pandemic, the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) found that COVID-19 had a negative financial impact on 97% of the 724 medical practices it surveyed. But evenbefore COVID, it was still a challenging field.
Small group and independent physicians are working harder than ever before, dealing with everything from complex value-based payment arrangements, to the ongoing acquisition of physician offices, to ever-changing technology. And yet, history tells us those physician leaders who acquire the right set of skills can better weather the uncertainty. The key is gaining the knowledge that will help you not only compete, but capitalize on current trends in healthcare. Online programs are one way to gain the knowledge needed.
Learning During COVID-19
There are a number of skills today’s independent physicians need, either for themselves or their administrators. These range from financial planning to staffing decisions. But if COVID has taught us anything, it’s that knowledge of other areas is needed as well. These include:
- Diversity and inclusion: The COVID-19 pandemic, along with the social justice movement, has highlighted issues of health equity and institutional racism that have been plaguing our country and our healthcare systems for decades. Finding out more about this issue will not only give important insights, but help you foster diversity and inclusion in your employee population and ensure greater health equity for the communities that you serve.
- Marketing and social media: Whether you are establishing a new practice or trying to grow your current practice, having strong marketing skills is essential. Unfortunately, “How to use Social Media” was never taught in medical school. Taking a marketing class or refresher, or encouraging other staff do so, can help you learn more about what today’s healthcare consumers are looking for, and how to use new social media tactics to reach them.
- Project Management: Need to determine how to roll out a new EHR or shift to a new care model? Project management insights are essential. Yet this is another skill set not taught in medical school. Skills in project management help with current practice challenges and can be of value if you decide to move to another organization in the future.
- Liability and Compliance: In times of COVID, medical practices confront a variety of new and complex legal issues, especially around malpractice, compliance, bioethics, and HIPAA. This is another topic that can be effectively covered through online education.
Tips for Finding the Right Educational Programs
In the new era of virtual-everything, taking programs to build these skills has become more convenient. Additionally,many certificate programs and online degrees are now accessible financially and take less time to complete. The advice I always give students is,
- Seek out programs that meet you where you are. There is a plethora of workforce development programs. Look for ones that have the content that you need to navigate today’s times. Make sure the course provides the CE hours you need and that it is affiliated with a reputable and respected institution.
- Compare prices. Affordability is key for any program or service. Many programs offer a range of payment options, especially ones that fit the budgets for smaller practices.
- Look for flexible programs, but not at the cost of being rigorous. Good courses will let you work at your own pace; however, they will also require a “check-in” with the instructor, ways to engage with classmates, and reasonable timelines for each unit.
- Note who develops and leads the program. You’ll want to explore online programs created by healthcare leaders—instructors with real-world experience—for the healthcare industry.
- Look for recognized and respected university affiliations. It helps to have programs backed by recognized institutions that give you a certificate or degree upon completion that means something to you and others.
Going “back to school” takes an investment of time and energy; however, finding the educational programs that meet the needs of you and your practice can provide many benefits. One of the most important is the ability to connect with industry experts and peers who can share their experiences and provide new ideas and solutions.
Additionally, taking programs to gain the skills and insights to survive the current market uncertainty can now be accomplished in convenient and affordable ways. And that experience may well prove to be what you need to future-proof your practice, prevent burn-out, and ensure you continue to meet the needs of your patients.
About the Author
Julie DeLoia, PhD is the Chief Academic Officer for Dignity Health Global Education (DHGE). Dr. DeLoia is both a distinguished scientist and academic administrator who has taught at all levels of higher education.