Run Your Medical Practice Like a Business

May 26, 2016
Auren Weinberg, MD

Practices need to expand their leadership capabilities beyond clinical-minded decisions. They have to focus on business management, too.

The days of stumbling into medical practice success are gone.  A practice not only needs clinical leadership, it also needs what you weren’t taught in medical school - business leadership and management. You must run your practice like a business to continue to provide the best care possible for your patients and to ensure long-term practice success.

By focusing on a few key areas and activities you can keep your “business” viable. Here are a few ways to get started.

1. Make an Assessment

Where is your practice today?  Are you succeeding in certain areas, but performing poorly in others?  Do you excel on clinical quality metrics but have poor patient satisfaction?  Are your finances on the edge every month despite effective workflows?  Identify one or, at most, two areas in which to invest time, effort, and money to improve.

2. Create a Roadmap

Write a plan, even if it is short and basic, that will be the roadmap for the practice to follow in your one or two areas of improvement.   Create a short term and long-term strategy to realize your practice mission.  Use S.M.A.R.T. goal setting (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, timely) to carry out your strategy/mission.  Document and communicate your mission and ensure the entire staff is committed. 

For example, if claims are frequently being denied and require resubmission, make the short-term goal to have demographics and insurance information always entered correctly.  Audit the performance and provide feedback to staff members on how they are doing.  Long term, ensure claims are getting paid in a timely fashion.  Be sure notes and billing are done efficiently and thoroughly, and lead the charge in making a roadmap to success when you discover problems.  Having the demographics right consistently is a good first step, but see the process all the way through to payment.

3. Customer First

A successful business retains customers (patients) by providing an exceptional experience.  Staff and providers must conduct themselves in a professional manner, and treat patients with respect at all times.  If a customer claims financial hardship, even if your staff has their doubts, listen, be kind, and convey understanding.  Allow the customer to go on a payment plan, even if it might reduce your revenue slightly.  If necessary, hire a third party to provide customer service training.  This is an investment that should provide a significant return in customer satisfaction and practice growth. 

4. Staff Productivity and Satisfaction

Productive staff members have a great sense of job satisfaction, which in turn has a positive impact on the entire practice.  Employee turnover increases costs, decreases productivity, and can have a negative impact on patient satisfaction. Find and retain good employees by understanding your labor market, providing competitive compensation packages and career growth opportunities.

Standard and best practices are key to staff productivity, as they keep the practice team aligned on policies and clinical approaches, and provide clarity and an objective yard stick for measuring performance. How many notices does a patient receive before they are placed in collections?  When patients go into collections are they asked to leave the practice?  How do you ensure that nobody gives an appointment to a patient that was dismissed for non-payment?  Document standards in a practice manual and have staff members sign an agreement that they have received, reviewed, and understand the policies.

5. Improve your bottom line

As the owner of a business you should have a thorough understanding of its revenue.  Conduct a periodic review with billing staff to discuss the current state and needed improvements.  Ineffective coding, slow billing, poor follow up, and inaccurate patient insurance information can slow down receivables.

Maximize your reimbursements opportunities.  If you are a primary-care physician, are you taking advantage of payer incentives?  Are you aware of the penalties that Medicare invokes for not participating in value-based programs?

6. Use & Optimize Technology

Use technology to save time and improve practice efficiency and patient care.  Optimize the use of your EHR through templates and reports.  Templates are critical to reducing documentation time as they streamline the process of conducting the patient visit and minimize distraction during provider time with patient.  Use reports to provide the data you need to understand everything about your business from your financial position to staff productivity to at-risk patients. 

If you don’t have the resources on staff to optimize your EHR, consider hiring third-party help.  The ROI is improved efficiency and patient care, which is often worth the one time fees associated with expert services.

Practice success requires a very specific and carefully planned strategy.  Find one or two areas that need to improve, write out a roadmap to get there, become customer focused, implement consistent training and policies, know your billing, and leverage technology for your benefit.  Feel free to pay for help when you need if the ROI is worthwhile.