A Tale of Two Practices

March 1, 2004

Two practices show how simple management can be

I unexpectedly had to visit two different medical offices as a patient recently. The experience was a lesson in the difference good practice management can make.

At the first practice, the sign-in sheet asked if there were any changes in my address or insurance. I wasn't sure when I had last been into the office, so I wrote down question marks, eliciting an exasperated sigh from the receptionist.

After overhearing front-desk staff offer patients all sorts of odd explanations of HIPAA while waiting my turn, I was escorted to an exam room -- where I waited for 40 minutes. It turned out the medical assistant had put me in the wrong room and no one knew where I was. The fact that my chart was sitting in the holder outside the door and that I occasionally loitered anxiously in the doorway apparently did not offer enough clues. Luckily, some previous captive had left behind a dated copy of People

The physician finally paid me a visit, nose in the chart, asking how she could help. I was there because of an allergic reaction to a new face wash. Narrowing my already-swollen eyes, I pointed to my bright red, ballooning complexion in response. "Oh," said the physician, finally glancing up, and handed me some sample antihistamines -- although she said she was not sure I could take them since I am nursing my son. She recommended I call my pediatrician's office --  where the phones were closed for the usual hour-and-a-half staff lunch. I couldn't even leave a message. Meanwhile, I got itchier and itchier.

At check-out, the "receptionist" asked me if I owed a copayment. Luckily for the practice, I answered honestly and handed over some cash - only to be told that the office doesn't take cash. Credit cards and checks only. It turns out the staff doesn't like the inconvenience of running to the bank for deposits and to have the proper change. Gosh, it sure can be a pain to put all that money in the bank. I wonder how many bounced checks the practice has to deal with each month?

In contrast, at the second practice, I was greeted warmly and waited just five minutes. While I waited, the receptionist pleasantly told me about a new service the practice was offering. I'd have to pay for it out-of-pocket, she warned, but she explained how convenient and accurate the test is. That is great marketing. The physician reiterated everything and made sure I felt comfortable proceeding with the extra service, making sure I knew it was not medically necessary --  just a bit more complete and more convenient for me. Before I left the exam room, the receptionist called my insurer, confirming what they would cover and asked me for payment before I left.

The moral? Good practice management doesn't necessarily require fancy algorithms, high-tech tools, or an advanced degree. The simple things --  solid check-in procedures, rooming protocols, copay collection --  can go a long way toward improving practice performance and patient confidence. Take some time to tackle the basics before moving on to the fancy footwork.

Send your feedback on this or other topics you'd like to see covered here to Pamela Moore, senior editor, practice management, at pmoore@physicianspractice.com. We may publish comments received in future issues of Physicians Practice.

This article originally appeared in the March 2004 issue of Physicians Practice.