United States: Taking Care Of Business: Four Strategies For A More Dynamic Medical Practice

Last Updated: May 15 2017
Article by Greg Koelling, CPA

If there is one thing that has been obvious over the past decade in health care, it is that change is a fact of life. To survive turbulent times, medical practices need to take some basic steps to protect and enhance their bottom lines. Here are four strategies that can help your practice take care of business by creating a more dynamic operation that can withstand the winds of change.

1. Contain Costs

When it comes to reimbursement, there is only so much you can do. What insurers and government payers are willing to reimburse is largely out of physician control. As fee-for-procedure shifts to fee-for-quality, government implementation of various metrics measurements, such as the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA), the Merit-based Incentive Payment System (MIPS) and the Alternative Payment Model (APM), increasingly play a role in business decisions.

In addition, medical practices will have to evaluate the cost of complying with these incentives to determine whether the related revenue is worth the additional administrative cost. This pathway can be dubbed as the "cost-compliance balance."

Understanding both your business and your costs can help you arrive at the best cost-compliance balance for your practice. This will ensure that your practice does not get stuck with penalties or struggle to comply with regulations at a cost that exceeds the penalties.

Physicians have a lot more leverage concerning costs than they do concerning reimbursement. When evaluating potential areas of cost containment, you will need to consider staffing levels, automation of certain tasks and any opportunity costs, such as decreased time for revenue-producing activities as a result of the cost cutting measures.

2. Determine Your Brand

Before you can market your practice, you should determine how you want to brand it. Ask the fundamental questions of:

  • Who are you and why are you in this practice?
  • How do you want your practice to be perceived in the market?
  • What sets your practice apart from other practices in your area?

Whatever makes your practice unique, recognize it and develop it. These are so-called "non-clinical factors." In essence, they involve that part of your practice that helps develop patient-physician rapport.

3. Market the Practice

Once you have identified and established your practice brand, you can use this message in the marketplace. Do not wait for patients to walk through the door. Be proactive. Generally, a good marketing plan has four pillars:

  1. Web-Based Marketing
    This includes the practice website, social media, online videos, review sites and potentially even Google search rankings.
  2. Referral Marketing
    Your practice needs an appropriate and effective referral program for medical and non-medical sources.
  3. Internal Marketing
    This includes everything that happens as soon as a patient pulls into your parking lot. It includes signage, your building, its cleanliness and layout, how staff greets patients and how you as a physician interact with them. It also includes whatever methods you use to stay in touch with patients, including follow-up e-mails, reminder phone calls and newsletters.

  4. The single most important thing a practice can do is generate a steady flow of new and regular patients. Reach out to the community and sponsor events or sports teams if that makes sense for your practice. You can also attend health fairs and work with large employers in the area.

4. Hire Good People and Lead

Physicians cannot do it alone.  Patients often spend more time in the presence of your nurses and receptionists than they do with you. Good technical skills matter, but so do the so-called "soft skills": personality and attitude.

A physician in a private practice has a lot of job titles, such as doctor, employer, business person, biller and contractor. However, one of the most vital titles is leader. There is a difference between a leader and a boss. A boss tries to get things done, while a leader empowers and motivates the team to get things done together.

Evolving with the Times

These are just a few ways you can stay competitive in the midst of the many regulatory, economic and competitive challenges of the health care industry. Above all, the key is to evolve with the times and never let your practice stagnate.

Sidebar: Cooking Up a 'Spaghetti' Fund

Sometimes, a physician practice just wants to try something new to see whether it works. As the old saying goes, "Throw it against the wall and see if it sticks!" If this approach appeals to you, budget for it by creating a "spaghetti fund." This way, the experiment becomes a planned expense rather than a potentially unpleasant financial surprise.

After you try the new process or procedure, be sure to analyze the results. If you find that the new process or procedure is not working, do not hesitate to abandon the experiment. Adapting and reinventing are key strategies to survival and success.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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Greg Koelling, CPA
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