Six Things You Should Never Skimp On

August 27, 2009

With the recession lingering on, many practices are feeling the sting of unfilled appointments caused by patients who have lost their jobs and insurance coverage.

With the recession lingering on, many practices are feeling the sting of unfilled appointments caused by patients who have lost their jobs and insurance coverage. Since this ultimately slows down revenue, practices must begin to look for ways to shave overhead expenses. Remember, operating costs can consume from 50 percent to 65 percent of total revenue, depending on your specialty. But don’t just throw the baby out with the bath water; take a cautious approach about reducing costs so you don’t compromise efficiency or patient service.

Here are six things you don’t want to skimp on:

1. Facility Maintenance. If your furnishings and office environment look shabby your image will deteriorate in a hurry. An office that looks out of date tells your patients that you don’t keep up with the times. This doesn’t mean you should redecorate the entire office in a down-market, but paint is cheap and so is upholstery and carpet cleaning.

2. Staff. Sure staffing costs a bundle - up to 30 percent of practice revenues - but it’s vital to hire good employees and pay them what they are worth. You can help control costs by making sure overtime pay is kept to a minimum. Invest the time to train your new staff properly as soon as they start their jobs. And provide them with the tools they need to do their job faster and more efficiently. This will promote better work flow and should result in less errors, improved staff confidence, and better patient service.

3. Technology. This doesn’t mean you have to break the bank and make big investments in technology when money is tight. But you can invest in low cost, high benefit technology, such as an automated patient reminder system or an automated payroll system. Both will save time and cut down on errors. And now is the time to put in place a technology plan that looks at your long-term needs, such as an EHR, and addresses the best approach to getting started. The costs must be weaved into a future operating budget, so without good planning you may end up waiting too long.

4. Ideas. Sit down with your staff and talk about what your practice can do to better manage costs. You may be amazed at some of the ideas your staff can bring to the table. Shifting to efficient light bulbs was one office’s approach to reducing costs. In another office looking at material waste resulted in reducing the cost for dry goods by 5 percent.

5. Customer service. It doesn’t take much for everyone to be friendly with patients. Remember to always introduce yourself to new patients; greet all patients properly on arrival; and make eye contact and nod when passing a patient in the hallway. Continue your excellent customer service by making follow-up appointments and referrals before patients leave your office. And, don’t forget to provide lab and biopsy results to patients promptly.

6. Communication. Keep communication open, honest, and timely. Have regular staff meetings and make daily communication more effective through the use of e-mail and instant messaging. Communicate well with patients at the time of their appointments, making sure physicians and staff watch for visual cues. Ensure that patient needs are met before the end of the visit by asking “Is there anything else we can do for you today?”

Judy Capkois a healthcare consultant and author of the popular books “Secrets of the Best Run Practices” and “Take Back Time.” Based in Thousand Oaks, Calif., she is a national speaker on healthcare topics. She can be reached at judy@capko.com.