“The future is uncertain, but that can be a good thing.”
~ Jennifer Niven, All the Bright Places
At the end of 2020, which will indeed be long remembered as a very bad year, one of the contributing writers at Forbes took a look at some positive lessons that might be taken from living through a pandemic. While acknowledging the pain, grief, and financial turmoil of the year, the author also stressed embracing the lessons of 2020 as a potential source of growth and opportunity. In fact, the article highlighted the three primary benefits which can sometimes be experienced as the result of surviving hard times:
- We deepen connections.
- We clarify priorities.
- We validate our capabilities.
While this is certainly a tough way to learn valuable life lessons, perhaps we can apply the same thought process to looking at how the pandemic may have provided some benefits for those in private practice. This article looks at some of the emotional benefits and reviews ways independent practices have changed for the better since the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Benefits of Remaining in Private Practice
“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”
~ Søren Kierk
With all the upheaval in the practice of medicine, 2020 may well go down as the year that will live in infamy. Some independent practices were unfortunately forced to close but, on the other hand, some physicians chose to leave the security of the hospital environment and strike out on their own in the bold new venture of private practice. Perhaps they were trying to remind themselves of some of the reasons to be in private care, as highlighted by Physicians Practice:
Demand for primary care physicians is still high. Independent doctors are not subject to the whims of corporate bureaucrats and can instead focus on delivering quality care in the best way they see fit.
A day in the hospital can seem like a never-ending round of similar patient visits. In private practice, the doctor never knows who will walk through the exam room door. Complaints may often be routine, but there are times the primary care physician has the opportunity to make a life-saving intervention.
In the hospital, the only patients the doctors see are those who have already experienced some type of disease or medical event. There is no opportunity to prevent illness from taking hold. In the independent practice, however, the care giver builds long-term relationships with patients and takes an active role in guiding health decisions. These actions can lead to realizing the personal satisfaction of disease prevention.
Whole Person Care
Instead of managing a specific symptom, the primary care provider takes all factors of a patient’s medical history, medications, emotional state, and environmental conditions into consideration when making a diagnosis and developing a treatment plan.
Better Work-Life Balance
Stress is a major concern for members of the medical profession. In private practice, the physician can assert control over scheduling, practice models and administrative functions to accommodate a better work-life balance.
Throughout the pandemic the one frequently heard phrase was, “Consult your physician.” In private practice, you are one of those on the front lines. You are the first person patients turn to for advice because they trust you have their best interests at heart.
Applying the Pandemic Lessons of Value-Based Care to Private Practice
One area of medical economics that took a big hit during the COVID-19 pandemic was the concept of fee-for-service care. As visits to medical offices virtually dried up overnight, practices that had no other way of interacting with patients were faced with an unimaginable loss of income.
Ultimately, doctors who focused on value-based care found their practice model to be a lifeline which allowed them to continue serving patients. An April 2021 article in Physicians Practice highlighted the key features of value-based care that enabled the independent practice to be more adaptable, resilient, and future-oriented:
Providing Quality Care for the Whole Practice
Your EMR might be great at analyzing a single patient, but Population Health can analyze your practice as a whole. These tools enable the physician to aggregate, analyze, and achieve results, such as better patient care, reduced patient costs, and increased practice productivity. Use Clinical Quality Measures (CQMs), Care Gaps analysis, and Chronic Care Management capabilities to ensure better clinical outcomes for the entire patient population. After the pandemic, these tools can be used to continue addressing patient needs and meeting quality goals. Not only does this meet care goals for patients, it also helps the practice in achieving eligibility for CMS Clinical Quality Measures incentives, which helps it in maintaining practice revenue.
Improving Virtual Care
One resource that virtually saved many independent practices was virtual care. When seeing patients in person became impossible, telehealth solutions stepped up to the plate to increase the ability of practices to remotely deliver in-home patient care that was comparable to an in-office visit. Physicians and their support teams learned to deliver high-quality, meaningful, impactful, and personal care for patients despite the trying circumstances. As we move beyond the pandemic, this form of remote care can be balanced with in-person visits to improve the value-based care that is provided.
Increasing Sophistication of the EHR
Fortunately, we were not still relying on paper charts during a time when physicians and staff had limited office access. Patient records could be kept up-to-date, and physicians could easily access vital information and medical data with the latest in Electronic Health Record capabilities. With the ability to easily chart telemedicine interactions, templates that maximize provider time, e-Prescribing, and a patient portal for enhanced communication purposes, much of the charting work of the practice could continue unabated. As we analyze the lessons learned from the pandemic, the efficient use of EHRs will certainly stand out as a positive.
Building Better Provider Collaborations
Here again, the pandemic showed that increasing interoperability was imperative to maintaining the patient care continuum. With the normal chains of communication broken, physicians used new technological advancements to obtain test results and communicate with specialists about patients under their care.
It is difficult for a physician to efficiently manage all staffing needs, juggle personalities, and match scheduling with patient needs. One alternative which found favor during the pandemic was the use of a Virtual Preventative Care Assistant. This offers the capability to include external remote care services in the patient care kit by adding remote staff, or contracting out existing staff, to reduce labor costs while maintaining patient continuity.
Reinvigorating Team Culture
After being apart for so long, it is important to reestablish a strong team culture upon their return. Steps the American Medical Association recommends to achieve this goal include:
- Diagnose the Current State of Your Team Culture
- Discuss the Results and Brainstorm Possible Improvements
- Create a Team Compact
- Create Opportunities for Team Communication Throughout the Day
- Meet Regularly
- Strengthen the Team by Focusing on Individual Development
- Get to Know Your Team Members
- Teach Leaders to Be Mentors, Not Managers
- Create an Environment That Supports Continual Learning
- Engage Patients
Independent Practices are Restoring Revenue Cycles
“The pandemic is also likely to bring about the next-generation distributed, highly interconnected, community-engaged and extensively digital system of care.”
~ Manatt Health, Emergence from COVID-19: Imperatives for Health System Leaders
Another negative that may yet turn into a positive is that revenue management fell apart during the pandemic, as personnel were unable to meet coding, billing and collections needs during quarantine restrictions. Now, however, Physicians Practice predicts that practices can realize a financial rebound by restoring the revenue cycle. Key steps to better positioning the practice for long-term success include:
1. Automate Revenue Cycle Workflow
Maintaining operational efficiency post-pandemic is more crucial than ever to ensuring survival. Coding errors and billing delays can negatively impact cash flow, and lead to patient dissatisfaction. Use technology to review your claims for inaccuracy so better information is provided, which leads to increased approvals and faster payments. A Revenue Cycle Management service that efficiently handles everyday billing hassles, at a more affordable rate than most third-party billers. Your practice could experience an increase in collections, a higher rate of claims paid on first submission, and a quicker time to payment with your payers and patients.
2. Reduce Days in Accounts Receivable
The old saying that “time is money” doesn’t apply just to working efficiently; it also means making your money work more efficiently for you. Money that sits in the Accounts Receivable queue 90-120 days for services that have already been rendered is lost income to your practice. Additional time spent trying to collect those amounts wastes even more of your precious practice resources. Use technology to improve real-time reporting for timeliness of claims submissions. Claim analysis tools can look for problem areas and implement extensive follow-up to effectively manage billing and increase cash flow.
3. Maximize Payer Contracts
Contracts can be very complicated, so it is difficult for the independent practice to efficiently deal with each payer. This drawback can leave the provider being underpaid for services. Work with other local physicians to manage contract negotiations, develop better billing schedules, and find solutions to billing issues. Regional or value-based reimbursement rates may represent an opportunity to leverage alternative payment models.
4. Promote Patient Cost Transparency
Too often patients do not understand the intricacies of their own insurance coverage and are reluctant to pay out of their own pocket for services received. The solution to this is increased transparency right up front. Shorten the patient check-in process by reviewing eligibility in seconds, and know your patient’s financial responsibility at check-in.
Doctors Remember Why They Became Doctors Again
One surprising side-benefit of the pandemic is that doctors in independent practice may have become reacquainted with their initial reasons for becoming a physician:
- Getting to interact with patients on a personal basis. Listening to their concerns, providing advice, and seeing a positive result.
- Being challenged every day by the variety of people, symptoms, and diagnostic puzzles.
- Staying in touch with people who are homebound, or don’t have the opportunity to visit an office on a regular basis.
- Working together as a team to overcome challenges.
- Being able to support a quality lifestyle for their family.
- Earning the respect of the community.
- Helping patients deal with their emotional vulnerabilities as well as their physical concerns.
- Having the opportunity to make a difference for neighbors and friends.
- Appreciating the feeling of job security and knowing there will always be a place for medical professionals.
Most importantly of all, you are actually making a difference with your patients. Sure, some may not listen, or may continue to exhibit unhealthy lifestyles, but think of those you do touch positively. Remember why you became a physician and use what you learned from this difficult time to make changes in your independent practice that will enable it to become better and better as we move forward.
Telehealth, technology, patient-focus, and financial resiliency are all ways that independent practices have changed for the better since the COVID-19 pandemic cut such a huge swath through the industry. To build on these changes, work with a reputable vendor dedicated to helping independent practices survive and thrive by providing easy-to-use solutions for delivering patient care that make healthcare more accessible, and more effective.
Healthcare Technology Solutions Designed By and For Independent Practices
Amazing Charts was founded in 2001 by a practicing family physician to help medical practices thrive. We have grown consistently since then by creating easy-to-use solutions for delivering patient care. Today, we offer a variety of additional capabilities designed to help independent practices succeed, including Electronic Health Records, Practice Management, Billing Services, Population Health and Remote Care. Call 866-382-5932 to learn about our products, schedule a practice consultation, and learn more about telehealth pandemic lessons that can help your independent practice grow.