Three Ways Managers Can Work Better with Physicians

May 11, 2015

Medical practice managers must be more aware of how physicians deliver care and how they can help them do it more efficiently.

With value-based payment models taking over healthcare, practice managers and administrators must be more aware of how physicians deliver care and how they can help them do it more efficiently. Likewise, physicians, if they care about their compensation levels, need to be more aware of how their decisions impact the bottom line.

"Patient care and practice financials/operations are not siloed," said Joan Hablutzel, senior industry analyst for the Medical Group Management Association. "They are interdependent and in order for each area to be successful, they need to work together."

For practice managers, understanding how your role impacts clinical care, improving communication between providers and the administrative team, and streamlining old processes can go a long way toward fostering collaboration between you and your physicians, Hablutzel said. Here's how:

1. Understanding your impact on clinical care. Practice managers and executives are experts in operations management, financial management, human resources management, organizational governance, risk and compliance management, and patient-centered care processes. Despite this, you, and your front-office staff, may lack insight into how each of these areas affects patient care directly.

"While [administrators] are not providing clinical care to patients, they are designing and facilitating patient care systems that leverage technology, focus on chronic disease prevention and management, and seamlessly integrate the business and clinical operations of the practice," Hablutzel said. This is essential "because there is an entire business and structure behind effective care-delivery models."

Make sure you are communicating with physicians regularly so that you gain a better understanding of what changes you can make to help them provide higher quality care at a lower cost.

2.Improving communication between physicians and the administrative team. Promoting open and effective communication between providers and administrators will most likely require you to listen to providers describe what they would like to fix at the practice. You will likely learn much more about what bothers them, however, based on what is not said, according to William Henderson, practice administrator for the AMC Neurology Group, part of Albany Medical College in New York.

"You have to listen at a couple levels," Henderson said, who started managing his first neurology practice nearly 20 years ago. "Words are being said, but you're really listening to what the purpose is of telling you this information."

Providers complaining to you "may be communicating a lot more about the intensity of what they feel," Henderson said, rather than the importance of the particular issue, which may seem trivial. Learning about the larger issue that is really bothering providers is the skill you will need to develop to improve communication.

When physicians (who tend to want to fix all problems on their own) feel comfortable venting about an issue to an administrator, it usually indicates a greater level of trust and is actually a positive sign, he said.

"Physicians tend to react differently with people with whom they have a trusting relationship than they do with just anybody," he said.

3. Streamlining old processes. Another way to build the trust that leads to greater collaboration is to implement quick process improvements that deliver a positive change that physicians and other providers will notice, Hablutzel said.

For example, if providers are often working overtime or feeling short-handed, you may want to explore creating new staffing models.

"Looking at the role each staff member plays and determining if they are working up to their licensure level is typically the first step," Hablutzel said. "By collaborating and looking at staffing, the administrator and physician can understand and make changes so their staff are more efficient, effective, and acutely focused on the patient."