What Makes a Successful Practice Now and Post Covid-19?
The “practice” of Medicine is an ongoing evolution that has adapted to HMOs, managed care plans, Obamacare, PPOs, concierge doctors, consolidation of hospitals, consolidation of medical groups, consolidation of insurance companies, and many other changes.
During this evolution, the Practice Manager has continued to be a critical part of the change, acting as a link among patients, physicians, office staff, hospitals, insurance companies, technologists, billers, and a dizzying array of medical service and drug providers.
Today, things are changing faster than ever, accelerated by the worldwide pandemic responsible for Covid-19. This “speed up” has highlighted cracks in the system, requiring Practice Managers to innovate, learn, adapt, and look forward more intensely than they have in the past, challenging them to look at every aspect of a practice.
There is so much opportunity and so much at risk that the team at Fellow Health Partners, a highly respected Medical Billing and Solutions company based in Long Island, NY, felt it might be worthwhile to take a clear look at effective Practice Management today as well as what it might look like during the next 2-3 years as it adapts to the ongoing threat of Covid-19.
We analyzed medical practices, spoke to successful and highly respected Practice Managers, polled patients, questioned medical providers, spoke to insurers, and tried to get a picture of what it takes to run a successful practice today as well as what it will take going forward.
We learned that many of the core aspects of a successful practice are unlikely to change but the way they are managed may change significantly, especially around technology, patient interaction, marketing, and staff management.
For some Practice Managers it might feel overwhelming. For others, it will be a golden opportunity.
Happy Patient. Happy Doctor.
A successful medical practice is built on satisfied patients and satisfied doctors. This doesn’t happen by accident. It’s usually the result of a strong, competent practice manager who helps to ensure four very important things. They are:
- A Satisfied Patient. The patient feels served, listened to, cared for, valued, and supported throughout the entire encounter with the office and with the medical professionals. Regardless of the treatment, they leave feeling better than they did before they “went to the doctor”. They want to tell others about the experience and suggest that they too visit this practice.
- A Satisfied Provider. The medical professionals (doctors, nurses, PAs, NPs, etc.) feel like they have been able to do their job to the best of their ability, supported by all necessary infrastructure and technology to help them be most efficient and effective in helping the patient. They have been paid what they billed.
- Organized Functionality. The Practice Manager ensures that the practice environment runs smoothly, especially where the patient and provider interact. Everything is on-time, supplies are available as needed, there is little waste, staff are supported, trained, and feel valued, the environment is clean and welcoming, the practice makes a profit, and is growing.In this environment, finances are in order, billing and collections are accurate, on-time, and paid appropriately. The practice support team feel like they have been able to do their job to the best of their ability, supported by all necessary infrastructure, training, and technology to help them be most efficient and effective in helping both the patient and the medical professionals.
- Training, Technology, Customer Service, and Marketing. Ideally, a strong practice will provide ongoing training for their staff – in both “people skills” and necessary updates in medical skills – because that good feeling the patients have when they interact with medical professionals and office staff often comes as much from the way the patient feels they were treated as it does from the actual medical services provided.
A strong practice will use technologies that streamline the experience for providers, patients and support staff, keeping up to date with helpful technological evolution such as check-in kiosks, automated pre-authorization and insurance verification, patient text reminders and scheduling, pay-by-phone billing, waiting area wi-fi, easy-to-use patient portals, effective EHRs, and so much more.And, under Covid-19 conditions, this technology will become more important than ever.
Michael Brown, CEO of Fellow Health Partners spoke with a number of top Practice Managers who see a lot of change coming. They say, “the practice landscape that is evolving as a result of Covid-19 means ensuring staff and patient safety is paramount. New considerations such as continually evaluating employee and patient health, controlling patient access and flow, embracing Telehealth beyond the pandemic, implementation and acceptance of work from home, and so much more, will impact how we do business.”
At the most basic level, for a practice to grow, all staff (including providers) will be more effective if the tools are used to enhance “customer service”, recognizing that the patient is not the only customer. The medical providers are “customers” of the office staff and the office staff are “customers” of the medical providers, because, just like patients, they can leave and go elsewhere if they don’t feel they are being valued and served.
In many practices, the Practice Manager is responsible for Marketing as well. However, too often, this is an afterthought and is not given sufficient attention by most practices. This is unfortunate since practices that use marketing effectively often gain more income and more patients.
The Real World of Practice Management
If these four pillars of strong Practice Management seem a bit idealistic and unattainable, that’s because most Practices today haven’t evolved effectively past the models developed for the 20th Century, even as Covid-19 is haphazardly kickstarting innovations based on 21st Century technologies.
This isn’t a knock on the Practice Manager, the medical providers, or the office support staff. It’s not their fault.
They are often doing the best they can, given the fact that there has been little incentive to invest in the necessary updates for a 21st Century practice. For example, there is hardly any “customer service” training in most practices. Medical providers are often overworked and feel underpaid, especially because of the challenges by insurance companies who are trained to deny them what they believe they have earned for their hard work.
Patients often feel rushed and don’t feel listened to because medical providers are “on the clock” when they are employed by hospitals or have been “bought” by venture capital companies, focused on dollar efficiencies, rather than patient happiness.
And, because of constant pressure to “keep costs down”, many practices aren’t current with new technology that might make it easier for patients and providers. They can’t invest in updating the skills of both front office and back office staff. They can’t update physical space such as waiting rooms, including equipping these rooms with quality wi-fi. Even the idea of a “waiting room” is coming under scrutiny as both doctors and patients are relying more on telehealth.
However, even though it’s true that many practices are struggling to update, it’s not true for all.
For example, practices where the patient pays most of the cost while insurance might pay little or none – such as cosmetic surgery, bariatrics, and even aspects of dermatology –can often provide very close to the “ideal” environment for the patient.
In these practices, which tend to rely on patient payments rather than insurance payments, the staff are usually highly trained in helping patients feel comfortable, physical areas are very attractive (exam rooms, waiting rooms, and offices). If patients want to come into the office, medical providers take extra time to make patients feel valued and cared for, and the entire experience is designed to create the “happy patient” who will not only feel good about the experience, but will share a recommendation with friends and family.
Even as the threat of Covid-19 is changing the reception area of offices for the near future, prioritizing getting patients in and out fast, the “experience” for the patient must still make them feel valued.
As you read this, you might say, “that’s all very well for practices that have extremely high margins but I’m not sure it can work for me.”
You might be surprised at where you can put your focus to improve the practice, grow, and turn patients into evangelists for your service.
You might be surprised at where you can put your focus to improve the practice, grow, and turn patients into evangelists for your service. Click here to read the 2nd article in this series.