3 simple steps to help save your practice

Running a medical practice is not for the faint of heart. With mounting regulations and flat reimbursements, closure is a real possibility for many small practices.

Marc D. Halley, MBA, president and chief executive officer of Ohio-based Halley Consulting Group, should know. With more than 20 years of experience in the physician-practice industry, Halley's expertise comes not just from his work as a consultant, but as someone who's been in your shoes. About 70 percent of the work his company does is interim management for healthcare organizations.

In many cases, hospital-owned practices that are losing money call Halley and his colleagues in to lead them. "We're frequently faced with some of the worst of the worst in terms of operational challenges," he told FiercePracticeManagement.

To succeed, you can't let these challenges overwhelm you, Halley said. Instead, make the time to achieve small goals that have potential to make a big impact. "In small practices, we're so busy trying to get through our day that sometimes we forget the simple things," he said.

Track fees: When is the last time you analyzed your practice's fees? "You'd be surprised how often we go to a practice and see it hasn't updated its fees. In some cases we see charges below Medicare." A practice's failure to update its charges is essentially leaving free money on the table, Halley said. Therefore, it's well worth comparing your fees to what your insurance carriers reimburse every six months and set your fees at the highest reimbursement level.

Smile: "What I want when I walk into a medical office is no glass and a smiling receptionist who knows that I'm coming and is tickled to see me," Halley said.

Even if you run a high-tech practice in which patients check themselves in via kiosk, it's still critical that staff acknowledge and greet patients warmly. These first moments set the tone for the patient's entire office experience--and your bottom line can truly suffer if you waste them.

"Customer service is a critical revenue cycle issue," Halley said. "Even for a full practice, your new patient ratio still needs to be at six to eight percent because you will have some attrition. If your customer service is right, you will continue to bring in new patients."

Considering word of mouth recommendations from current patients account for up to 80 percent of your new patients, relationship-management between your employees and patients is critical. Even if you're a subspecialist, prioritize customer service to make sure referred patients say good things, Halley noted.

Treat referrers as customers: If you're a specialist and want primary care physicians to send referrals, don't take this business for granted. Even if you provide outstanding experiences to patients, think of how you treat referring practices. Halley suggested asking yourself the following questions:

  • Do I provide access to make it easy for PCPs to refer to me?

  • Do I accept all the payers or do I cherry pick?

  • Do I communicate effectively with referring physicians and maintain relationships with them?

The last point, Halley noted, means more than simply sending patients notes via your EMR, but also reaching out to thank doctors for their referrals and engaging them in the caring for patients they send.

These tips are low-hanging fruit needed to strengthen your practice. Push them higher on your priority list, and you just may find yourself that much closer to reaching your goals. As always, share your thoughts about these topics in the comments. - Deb (@PracticeMgt)