If you've followed us for a while, you know I've been urging practices of all sizes to take their payer directory listings more seriously for years now. It's not that insurers shouldn't do a better job. It's just that (as someone who once owned a directory company) I know how hard it is to keep directories accurate, especially if it's not your core competency (like, when your actual job is providing health insurance). It's also something that requires effort on both sides to be done properly. There's just no way around this. The insurer can't be expected to know when anything changes on your side unless you inform them. And while insurers should do a better job of accurately publishing information you provide them, mistakes are inevitable. It's up to you to catch them and make sure they're fixed. And it's absolutely worth monitoring and correcting your listings! I can think of few marketing tasks that are more directly connected to attracting new patients. Patients want to know that you're (1) in their network (2) accepting new patients and (3) convenient to them before deciding to contact you. If you're not listed accurately in their health plan directory, you're basically turning them away at your door. More on the latest study showing directories just haven't gotten any easier to maintain: https://www.healthcaredive.com/news/inconsistent-physician-directories-no-surprises-act/645307/
We recently worked with a smart, energetic practice administrator who was very motivated to improve his practice’s bottom line. He’d already found significant savings by switching billing and phone services (even getting better billing results, to boot). Spurred on by those successes, he’d turned his attention to clinic staffing. While the physicians in his practice mostly used conventional medical assistants (MA) for support, a few of the doctors and non-physician providers (NPPs) had opted to use “scribe assistants.” These hybrid staff help clinicians by both scribing during the visit and handling typical MA tasks like test orders and scheduling follow-up care. Because of the extra duties, and because they were hired through an agency, their hourly cost was a bit higher than for the MAs – a 15-20% differential that caught the administrator’s attention. The administrator estimated the hourly cost of hiring a new MA would be about $20, including taxes and benefits. The scribe assistants, meanwhile, cost the practice about $24 per hour. The scribes did some tasks the MAs weren’t trained or expected to do – notably, scribing. But the administrator believed that at least one of the NPPs who was currently using a scribe assistant could do just fine with an MA (she was a recent grad and tech enthusiast). So the administrator decided to suggest gradually switching some of the contracted scribes with employed MAs – and was surprised that his idea met with resistance. (After all, 18% would be a significant cost savings – yet even some of the partners resisted the idea!) As the administrator repeated his idea at a few monthly meetings in a row, the resistance grew into a testier conflict. Was the conflict a sign the administrator was wrong to bring up the idea of saving money on clinical staff? We wouldn’t say “wrong” per se – but we might have not have prioritized this particular cost-saving avenue. It’s natural for clinicians to be wary of any changes to clinic staffing. Clinical support staff is essential to physicians’ productivity. Anything that disrupts clinic flow can make it harder for physicians to
Practice management literature often offers advice about cutting expenses – advice that promises cost-cuts improve margins and “directly boost the bottom line.” Many physician owners and practice managers seem to have internalized the idea, so they’re always on the lookout for things to trim. But is this the best way to strengthen your practice business? Some expenses do nothing to improve your practice. Paying more for identical supplies or credit card processing, for example, won’t serve patients better or boost efficiency. Once you start routinely cutting staff, technology, marketing, or materials, though, the risk of undermining productivity or the patient experience increases. It can creep in so slowly, you might not notice until profitability turns sharply south – when it can be much harder to turn things around. For example, if you’re busy, it may seem like you can “get by” without marketing. But today’s new patients probably reflect marketing efforts started months or even years ago. Cut marketing and you may see little difference – at first. By the time you notice a slowdown, you may be facing a year or more of significant investing before your volume returns. Staffing is another common focus of penny-pinching. Even a little bit of staff downtime can seem wasteful. Trying to trim staff so that employees are busy 100% of the time risks bigger problems, however. Without a bit of “excess” capacity, the impact of disruptions like employee resignations, sick time, or unexpected increases in demand can be much more expensive than the cost of a few “extra” employees. What’s more, too little support also undermines physician productivity, which has a much bigger impact on profit. Global consultants McKinsey & Company published an excellent study showing how continuous efforts to improve margins – rather than build the business – can actually undermine profitability after a few years. Their advice: consider whether expense cuts you’re contemplating will negatively impact customers (patients), your ability to compete with other practices, or both. If you’ve been focusing on expense cuts for a while, you could be in the danger zone. Be sure to give building the
(c) Sheri Swailes - fotolia.com No-shows can be a huge drain on medical practice finances. Time that is booked but ultimately generates no revenue is a loss that comes right out of your bottom line. It’s similar to what airlines experience when they have an unsold seat – which is why airlines so often resort to overbooking, and some practices do, too. But if you've seen the negative media coverage about the impact of flight overbooking on passengers, you already know what a stressful gamble the double-booking “solution” is. It's all but impossible to predict which patients will fail to show up -- so you could end up with too many arriving at the same time. Even when overbooking helps reduce lost revenue, it can create other problems -- like long waits, rushed visits, and stressed out physicians -- that lead to unhappy patients and higher marketing costs. Practice managers and physicians often throw up their hands in frustration about how to deal with no-shows, especially if they’re already taking steps to remind patients, or perhaps even charging a no-show or late-cancel fee. There’s no doubt about it, trying to improve your practice no-show rate can be challenging. But there are a few ways to look at the problem that practices sometimes miss. Consider if any of these ideas might help you reduce the cost of no-shows to your bottom line. Reevaluate Your Appointment Slots Practices often have standard appointment slots that they haven’t reviewed in a while. We recently worked with a practice that had used only two slots for over a decade: 30 minutes for established patients and 45 minutes for new patients. When we looked at how long visits were actually taking, we found that more time was usually set aside for the visit than was necessary. Besides reducing the overall number of productive slots the practice had available, these over-long slots amplified the impact of any no-shows. Even a single no-show usually left a 45-minute hole in the middle of the schedule – ouch. By tweaking the timings just a bit (30 minutes for
(c) Michael Jung-fotolia.com Summer's here! If the change of the season has you thinking about reading on a beach, a back porch, a dock, or a hammock, we've got the reads that you need. Judy and Laurie have both published new books. They're both easy reads packed with intriguing case studies of real practices -- the furthest thing from a dry textbook. And you'll find they're full of practical ideas you can readily implement to make your practice run more smoothly and profitably. (We'll understand if you want to wait until fall for that.) In celebration of Judy's latest edition of Secrets of the Best-Run Practices (released just in time for summer), we've got a special offer. Buy both Secrets and Laurie's book, People, Technology, Profit: Practical Ideas for a Happier, Healthier Practice Business, and we'll send you a $5 Starbucks card you can use for the perfect cold (or hot) beverage of your choice. Here's how it works: Buy Secrets of the Best-Run Practices (3rd Edition) Buy People, Technology, Profit: Practical Ideas for a Happier, Healthier Practice Business Send us proof of purchase: your emails from Amazon or other retailer, or even a photo of the two books will work (email "info" at capko.com) We send you your $5 Starbucks card! If you bought either book in 2017 and can provide proof of purchase, that works; you don't have to buy them at the same time. And if you want to buy the books for someone else (like your practice manager), you can tap into the promotion up to three times. This promotion runs through Labor Day 2017 -- you must purchase both books by then. Prefer ebooks? Visit this page for the ebook version of this promotion. Questions? Feel free to contact us.
Recently, the check-in automation company Phreesia invited me to write an ebook on one of my favorite topics: the patient-centered practice. It's called "Beyond Five-Star Reviews: Why the Patient Experience Matters, and How to Improve It," and it's available free with registration -- just click on this link. The idea of being more patient-centered and creating a better patient experience attracts more controversy and confusion than it should. The bottom line is that being more patient-centered fits with clinical goals as well as business ones, because it may help patients become more engaged and more receptive to clinical advice. "Patient-centered" is not about chasing positive reviews, and it's not about being patient-led. It's about understanding the patient perspective and communicating that you do, while also maintaining your practice's clinical integrity and mission. And it's about focusing on administrative processes patients interact with every day that can make your practice more or less welcoming and convenient for patients. The ebook contains some ideas that any practice can implement to improve the patient experience. I hope you'll check it out -- download it here.
I stumbled upon this quote by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently: I think a simple rule of business is, if you do the things that are easier first, then you can actually make a lot of progress. This makes so much sense for any enterprise. If you're stuck, try chipping away at the easiest part of a problem. It also strikes me as especially relevant to front office tasks and automation in medical practices. The need to embrace automation, to use technology better, to provide more self-service, etc., is, I think, becoming more understood in practices of all sizes. But that doesn't make the thought of these things any less daunting! Practice managers and physicians may hear "technology" and immediately think, "Oh no, not that again." Visions of EHR implementations that wreaked havoc are vivid and pretty easily recalled. It can be hard to imagine an ROI large enough to make reliving that pain seem worthwhile. But in the front office tech space, many solutions are emerging that are easy to implement -- either wholesale or in parts. And ticking off just one box at a time can give your practice business a boost, even if you're not ready to take on a full-scale automation overhaul. For example, payment portals and email statements have become much easier to implement. Many PMS vendors offer these as built-in tools. Activating these features may (literally) take only a few moments. And if even just one patient finds the convenience encourages him to pay more promptly, the effort you and your team invested will likely be repaid. One of the very best things about how technology for the front office is evolving is that there are more and more targeted solutions to specific, costly problems. You usually don't have to engage in a massive conversion to a new platform to take advantage of any one solution. Chipping away at front office inefficiencies by trying one or more new technologies is a very realistic way to tackle problems that seem very complicated and daunting when taken as a whole.
A recent Peterson-Kaiser Health System Tracker study revealed an interesting finding: average copayments are declining. Their study, which analyzed claims data from Truven MarketScan, found that average copay amounts paid by patients decreased by 26% from 2004 to 2014. Seems like a positive trend for patients and practices ... except that it's not. It's part of a shift that's actually making out-of-pocket costs harder for patients to prepare for and understand. That makes them harder for practices to collect. The Peterson-Kaiser analysis found that while copays declined by 26%, coinsurance increased by much more, 107%.* Payers may be emphasizing coinsurance because it is assumed, like deductibles, to be a more powerful tool to discourage unnecessary utilization of services. But for patients who need care, coinsurance can be another cause of 'surprise' obligations, since it's not always easy to calculate the amounts due. Patients may also easily confuse copays -- which are standard amounts for services like office visits, prescriptions, or the ER -- with coinsurance, which can only be calculated after determining what services are needed. This difference can lead to reluctance to pay, or fear of being incorrectly charged, especially when the amounts are significant. Here's a chart from the Peterson-Kaiser report: Coincidentally, but not surprisingly, the report also found that total cost-sharing continued to rise steadily and steeply. The analysis found that total out-of-pocket costs rose 77% from 2004-2014 -- much faster than wages. Besides the 107% coinsurance increase, deductibles increased 256%(!). For practices, this means that effective patient collections continues to be crucial to profitability. Not only are patients accounting for an ever more significant proportion of earned revenue, their payment responsibility will almost certainly continue to be confusing. It's crucial to help patients understand and prepare for the amounts they will be expected to pay. Be sure you also offer options like credit-card-on-file, mobile payments, payment portal, and payment plans to encourage their compliance. *I also wonder how much of the decline in copayments is due to patients using more preventive services, which carry no copay by law under the ACA. This could bring the average
I'm working on an ebook right now about medical practice staffing. More specifically, it's about how the instinct to cut staff, to be as leanly staffed as possible, can backfire*. There are dozens of little details that any practice can explore to improve profitability. These small changes can be made with much less risk than eliminating a job or cutting staff hours. And because they improve the profitability of your processes, they are a gift that keeps on giving, making your bottom line a little bit bigger every day. Here are just a few of the possibilities I explore in the ebook. Are you taking full advantage of these opportunities to improve your bottom line? Reduce no-shows: Take a quantitative look at your no-show rate. Are you tracking both true no-shows and last minute cancelled slots that can't be refilled? Audit your reminder process and results. Is your timing right? Experiment with reminding further ahead or closer to the appointment. Remind people using the technology they prefer. Capture email and cell info: Being able to reach people electronically opens the door to multiple efficiency improvements, including more effective reminders and better collections. And your patients that want to be emailed or texted, not called, will appreciate the option. Win-win! Train patients on portals: Too many practices make portal adoption a low priority, or abandon the effort altogether, because they find it hard to get patients engaged. It is hard! But it's still very worthwhile. As more patients use your portals, you have more ways to reach them for marketing. Portals make other key tasks more profitable, too. Notice I said "portals," plural? If you don't have the ability to collect payments through your EHR portal, investigate the option to set up a payment portal with your PMS vendor. Patients want to help themselves -- and they want to pay without having to write a check or find a stamp. They'll reward you by paying faster and more reliably. If you cut staff before checking out all the possibilities to improve your operations, you may not have the people you need