By SONDA EUNUS, MHA, CMPE, CPB
Orlando Medical News continues this series of answers to questions from readers dealing with issues faced by practice managers in our healthcare community.
We encourage readers to send questions they face in everyday practice. Use the subject Practice Management Challenges to email@example.com
Questions selected for inclusion in the October edition will receive a complimentary 300 x 600 pixel ad with animated gif on our website.
- What are some ways that our practice can cut operating costs?
Every practice faces different costs depending on the specialty and size of the practice, the services that it provides, and the geographic location in which it operates. However, every practice also faces many mutual operating expenses which can potentially be reduced by making processes more efficient, or by doing some research on other ways to minimize expenses.
One great way to cut operating costs is to be knowledgeable of the technology that is available to make your operations more efficient and to save you money. For example, is your practice still using a conventional fax machine and spending money on toner and paper? Have you considered using secure e-fax services or HIPAA-compliant emails? Does your check-in process take too long, backing up your physicians and slowing down your patient flow? Have you considered electronic kiosks which allow patients to check themselves in? Not only can these kiosks make your check-in process more efficient, but it can also reduce the number of receptionists that you need to be working at one time, saving you labor costs. Additionally, by empowering your patients and teaching them to use your electronic patient portal to schedule or reschedule their appointments, or request referrals or prescription refills, you may also be able to reduce the number of employees that you need on staff to answer the phone calls that would normally be generated for these issues. These are only a few examples of how you can use technology to cut costs.
Another option to consider when trying to reduce operating expenses is joining a group purchasing organization (GPO). These organizations utilize the power of group purchasing and allow their member practices to enjoy great discounts on necessary office supplies, health and malpractice insurance, and other products and services. Do some research to find a GPO near you that you can join and start saving significant amounts of money.
Finally, evaluate your long-term contracts. Have you been with a certain vendor for years, and are maybe missing out on the lower prices offered by their competitors? Request quotes from 2-3 vendors to see if you may be able to get better prices. You can then approach your current vendor and see if they can match or even beat the best quote. If they are unable to, it may be time to switch vendors.
- How can our practice implement a successful process improvement program?
It is very easy to get stuck in an inefficient routine, just because that is how things have always been done. However, sometimes it is necessary to step back from the day-to-day work that we will always be immersed in, to see if we can improve certain processes to make our work simpler and more efficient. Is there a way that we can reach the same result in fewer steps and with less employee labor involved? For example, look at your referral process â€" how many people need to be involved in order to close the referral loop? Are your referrals being sent out in a timely manner? Is someone following up with the patient to ensure that they made it to their appointment with the specialist? Finally, is someone responsible for making sure that the specialist's findings are being obtained and added to the patient's chart? How can you systemize this process to make sure that it is carried out successfully every time, and that it utilizes the least possible amount of employee time and resources?
The Patient Centered Medical Home (PCMH) delivery of care model proposes a great way of reducing inefficient processes by conducting PDSA cycles - Plan, Do, Study, Act. Such cycles involve planning and trying out new ways of doing things for short periods of time, observing the results, and deciding whether or not the new process should be kept or modified. This is a good way to start your process improvement program. It is beneficial to form a core multi-disciplinary team that will drive the process improvement movement forward, and who will be able to speak for the various departments of your organization - the front office, the clinical staff, the physicians or other providers, the billing staff, management, etc. By ensuring that every department has a voice and is able to communicate their own operational challenges to the other departments, solutions can be implemented without unnecessary conflict. For example, when a patient waits too long in the waiting room and becomes irritated, the receptionist will need to deal with the patient's frustration. The receptionist may in turn become irritated with the nurse, who she thinks is taking too long to triage the patient. Meanwhile, the nurse may be stuck in an exam room with the new physician, who is not yet proficient in how to use the EMR system. By now, the furious patient has demanded to speak with the manager, who now has to find a way to calm the patient down and figure out the root cause of the problem. By having a core multi-disciplinary team put together who can voice their department's concerns at regular meetings, such disasters can be avoided by figuring out which problems need to be addressed, exactly how they should be addressed, and by whom. With open communication and the willingness of your staff to commit to process improvement, your practice can ensure that it is operating as a well-oiled machine in which all of the parts work together to create a great patient experience.
Sonda Eunus, Founder & CEO of Leading Management Solutions has a background in managing a multi-location pediatric primary care practice, and truly enjoys medical practice management. She holds a Master of Healthcare Management, and a BA in Psychology. She enjoys sharing her work experience and knowledge of the healthcare field through her consulting work and her writing. She founded Leading Management Solutions, a healthcare management consulting firm, out of her desire to assist medical practice managers and physician owners in the successful management of their practices, by providing services that she herself needed while managing her practice. Along with a team of experienced and knowledgeable consultants, Sonda aims to make Leading Management Solutions a one-stop shop for medical practices by offering a variety of needed services that add great value to any healthcare organization. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org