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Three Easy Ways to Use Data to Improve Your Practice


Don't let data intimidate you. Here are some easy ways to gather it and use it to improve your medical practice.

As we discussed in the first part of the series about becoming a better manager, building trust and involving your physicians, other clinicians, and front-office staff in problem solving is an excellent way to improve the productivity and efficiency of your practice.

Once you’ve made these improvements, however, it’s crucial to track progress so you don’t slip back into old habits without noticing. This is where data collection and internal benchmarking are essential. External benchmarking - which is comparing data from similar practices to yours - is also an excellent way to explore other areas where your practice may need improvement. For example, you may have reduced your 120-day past-due accounts receivable by 10 percent since last year, but if the amount is 50 percent more than your peers, there’s still more work to be done.

“I could tell you it was 100 degrees outside, but if you’ve never been outside in that weather then you don’t know that it’s hot,” Todd Evenson, vice president of consulting services and data solutions for the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) told Physicians Practice. “External benchmarking puts these numbers in some context.”

The following are a few tips for effectively managing financial and clinical data to improve performance.

1. Set a realistic goal metric
In the first article in this series, we discussed how to identify and address practice improvements by seeking input from clinical and front-office staff. While these improvements may not necessarily be financial or clinical, it’s important nonetheless to attach a simple, measurable metric that the entire staff can focus on and then track progress toward that goal, said Dike Drummond, a former full-time family physician who now focuses on preventing and treating physician burnout at his firm, The Happy MD, thehappymd.com.

“Prioritize which [goals] you’re going to take action on,” Drummond told Physicians Practice. “I would recommend you to start with just one and do a really good job.”

Choose a metric that you or another staff member can easily track daily that allows you and the project management team to quickly determine early on if you are moving in the right direction or if you need to adjust the strategy.

2. Crunch the numbers
The data to measure your progress toward many of your goals is likely available inside your practice management or EHR system. Accessing the data and generating understandable reports to present to your physician partners and front-office staff, however, may be a little more difficult.

“Over the last several years the focus has been on installation of EHRs, rather than implementation,” Evenson said. “I know of many organizations that have had an EHR in place for three or more years that really struggle to generate reports, even though the analytics capability is there.”

Contacting your PM/EHR vendor is the first step to learning how you can access, analyze, and present this data in a useful format, he said, or learn about the automated reporting functions that many of these systems include.

“The vendors are there to ensure that these reports can be run effectively, efficiently, and timely,” he said. “It would be wise to reach to out the vendor themselves or talk to colleagues with the same system and use peer-to-peer learning.”

3. Study relevant external benchmarks
If you’re running a four-physician practice, there is no use comparing your performance against a multi-facility academic health system with 10,000 employees. Finding relevant external benchmarks will help you better measure your practice’s progress against any goals you and your staff have set.

The MGMA offers benchmarking data based on surveys the trade organization conducts with more than 3,000 of its practice administrators and executives, Evenson said. The survey data can be compared against your practice’s data electronically to create reports that show how your performance stacks up against your peers. The American Medical Group Association also offers benchmarking data based on surveys of its members who represent typically larger practices than MGMA’s members.

Once you’ve met or exceeded these external benchmarks, all that’s left to do is to continue to monitor your internal benchmarks to ensure that you maintain this performance in the days, months, and years ahead.

Morgan Lewis Jr. is a healthcare writer based in Pennsylvania


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