First of all, give yourself a big hand if your independent practice managed to survive the past two years of COVID, and is still able to treat patients. Medical providers from the local independent practice, emergency personnel, and hospital levels have gone above and beyond to provide care.
Not only do you persevere within the confines of a pandemic, you still manage to provide crucial care for patients dealing with stress, hypertension, diabetes, and so many other life-altering medical conditions. According to Physicians Practice, medical professionals spent countless hours over the past 20 months treating COVID-19 patients, administering over 4.4 billion vaccines, and providing care. Many did yeoman jobs to make sure patients were treated, going so far as to set up tents in parking lots, or continuing to communicate from home offices using adapted smartphones.
Doubtless, the pandemic affected many practices in a negative way, but those that fought through it might be able to find some catalysts for innovation as they prepare to face the new world of patient treatment. New demands on the industry may also spur a quicker response to meeting the needs of your patient population.
The challenge now is to learn how to lean into the lessons learned and adapt them to ensure the continued success of your private practice in 2022 and beyond. The key will be to apply your new management and operational skills to improve activities in your practice on a daily, long-term basis.
Three Keys to Operation Agility
“It will be difficult to maintain the rapid pace of change, but there are a few vital lessons health leaders can use to turn pandemic resource management lessons into building blocks for future success.”
~Physicians Practice, January 2022
It may be difficult trying to help your independent practice recover from the difficulties of the past few years, but here are the top lessons Physicians Practice recommends to help you build for a positive future with operational agility:
Key Success Strategy #1 – Use Technology to Streamline Your Operations
During the pandemic, many private practices were astounded to find how sluggish they were at responding to the rapidly changing environment. Although many of these practices were great at providing the medical care patients needed, they found they did not have the operational excellence to support new ways of delivering that care. Most are unaware of new technologies that can help the office run more efficiently and effectively. Some examples of these emerging capabilities include virtual assistants, Artificial Intelligence, predictive scheduling algorithms, and Population Health tools to aggregate, analyze, and achieve results, such as better patient care, reduced patient costs, and increased practice productivity.
Key Success Strategy #2 - Innovate From a Process Perspective
Medical practices operated much the same way for decades because they saw no need to change. When the pandemic hit hard, they suddenly had to scramble for new ways to provide service and, you know what – some of those ways were better! If nothing else, the pandemic should be a lesson to constantly assess and analyze the processes you use in your private practice to determine if there is a better way to do something. The old excuse of “that’s the way we have always done it” just doesn’t hold water anymore. To respond to the evolving needs of your patient population, your practice will need to remain flexible and open to change as needed.
Key Success Strategy #3 - Use Automation to Stay Competitive
It may be difficult to think of healthcare as a competitive business, but you are in competition with other providers, larger clinics, and emerging forms of care that are beginning to draw patients from your population. Practices found that automation, patient portals, and telehealth helped them to keep in touch with patients and continue to provide high levels of personal care that helps to strengthen bonds and build relationships. It should not have to be a chore for patients or your staff members to set appointments, refill prescriptions, update insurance or solve billing issues. Automating the most routine of your administrative and billing functions can help free up time to perform those vital medical care tasks.
All indicators for a positive future in healthcare point towards the increasing use of technology. Healthcare has suddenly learned to innovate at a previously unheard-of rate. By continuing to adopt this mindset of change, private practices can leverage these lessons to improve patient care and operational efficiency.
Key Components of a Practice Growth Plan
If you are not already doing so, your independent practice should have an annual plan to support patient care and operational growth. A plan helps to crystallize goals and propel thoughts into action to achieve those goals. Key components of your practice growth plan should include:
Look at how many patients your practice is able to serve now and estimate how many you would like to care for in the coming years. Think about what types of patients you would like to attract, and what levels of care they will need. This helps give you an idea of the facility, staffing and technology needs you will have for the next few years.
Review your current operational flow to determine areas of gridlock, and research what you will need to make this area of your practice function more efficiently.
It is critical that you assess your coding, billing and collections functions to make sure that your practice maintains a healthy cash flow.
Technology is evolving rapidly, so you will need to work with trusted vendors who can help project your needs, provide the necessary technology for current activity, and upgrade quickly for future growth.
Estimate how many administrative and provider team members you will need to adequately meet the needs of your desired population growth. Plan for how you are going to recruit, train, and support these new team members.
Although many patients will come to you as referrals from current patients, significant growth requires a serious outreach effort. Analyze your marketing plan, social media, and advertising efforts to make sure you are clearly communicating your benefits to the desired target population.
Continued growth requires continued investment in your practice. Use your projections in these areas to determine how much money you will have flowing into your practice each year, so you can make informed decisions about how best to invest in your growth.
A Model for Accelerating Improvement
The Institute for Healthcare Improvement offers solid advice in its Model for Improvement. This model features an integrated approach to process improvement for medical practices, which will deliver quick and substantial results in quality and productivity. Topics that can be helpful in setting your growth plan include:
Form Your Team
Including the right people on your practice improvement team is critical to a successful improvement effort. You will want to include members who represent different areas within your practice, such as a clinical leader, someone with technical expertise, day-to-day leadership, and a project sponsor.
One big step is to decide what your team wants to accomplish. These goals should be time-specific and measurable. They should also define the members of your patient population who are affected by each goal. Examples of these goals might include: improving support for chronic care patients, increasing patient safety, reducing rejected claims, integrating remote patient monitoring, and improving flow.
Establish Measurement Criteria
Measurement criteria are needed to assess movement toward the desired goals. The team can develop a simple set of measurement tools to plot data over time to determine whether recommended changes are leading to quantifiable improvement.
Propose Potential Changes
Based on their individual areas of expertise, members of the team can propose ideas for change to be discussed by the group. Some may be applicable, while others might not be practical for the practice at this particular point. Try not to squelch ideas in this forum, but to implement those which have the highest potential of making an immediate impact.
Implement Suggested Changes
Select some of the changes for implementation, discuss with the entire practice team, and set a period for review based on the measure criteria. All changes might not lead to a noticeable improvement, but improvement does require change – you just need to keep an eye on the changes being considered to see what impact they have. The ability to suggest, implement and test changes is essential for continuous improvement.
Revenue Cycle Management as a Core Component of Practice Success
The key to private practice success in 2022 and beyond is getting paid. Revenue Cycle Management (RCM) is the business side of your practice. This includes everything from verifying each patient’s insurance eligibility before providing service to submitting accurate claims for receiving health plan payments, and then billing patients for their share of service payments.
Although patient care is certainly the top priority, revenue cycle management is critical for your independent practice’s financial health and sustainability. Great advances have been made in electronic methods which can streamline your revenue-related processes so your practice can focus on maximizing the amount of time available for patient care. According to the American Medical Association, steps to improve revenue cycle efficiency include:
- Select the right Practice Management System (PMS) for your needs.
- Verify insurance eligibility electronically before every patient appointment.
- Reduce prior authorization burdens through electronic transactions.
- Submit claims electronically to save time and money.
- Determine the status of your submitted claim.
- Leverage Electronic Remittance Advice (ERA) to simplify processing of payment information.
- Review electronic payment options to make the best choice for your practice.
- Maximize patient payment collections.
Every workflow your independent practice can convert from a manual to an electronic process will save valuable time and resources and reduce the administrative burdens of practicing medicine.
Key Components of High-Performing Practices
“Have a strategic plan, have a business model. Follow that through, but also be nimble enough to course-correct. What we’ve learned is, you can’t force something to happen, sometimes you have to react to what comes at you in this type of business rather than try to make things happen. I think private practices need to have a strategy. They need to have a good business plan and a good business model to succeed.”
~Physician from a medium-sized general surgery practice in the West
American Medical Association: Supporting and Promoting High-Performing Physician-Owned Private Practices: Voices from the Front Lines
Mathematica conducted a study with the AMA in order to define, analyze, and assess the factors that create and sustain high-performing, physician-owned private practices. Their observations about the nature of high-performing practices include:
- Being a high-performing private practice is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. Governance and staffing models vary widely.
- Running a high-performing private practice means that it is capable of delivering high-quality health care and is still a successful business. It requires market knowledge, strategy, and change management.
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.