MGMA 2009: Knowing the right practice metrics to follow is critical, speaker says

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Managing a practice is a hard job under the best of circumstances. But if you don't pay attention to the right core metrics, your practice is missing countless opportunities to boost patient and employee satisfaction, improve care and boost employee retention, said Arnold Albert, director of dental services for Vanderbilt Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery.

Before you even consider which metrics your practice wants to track, first be sure you've picked ones which are absolutely critical. "You want to isolate the ones which, if they go south, your practice is in deep trouble," he said. Typically, practices should stick to a maximum of five measures; expand the list too much, and your measures probably aren't as critical as they should be, Albert suggests.

You can measure any number of performance metrics, he notes:

  • Key financial measures to consider include individual P&Ls for each provider in your practice, days to complete your month-end close and days to collect receivables, though there's many others to consider. P&Ls by provider are particularly important, as they highlight issues that could be a drag on profitability, Albert suggests.
  • Growth metrics to measure can include your degree of market penetration, your quarterly or annual increase in patient volume, and the extent to which you're using your capacity. (After a show of hands in the audience, the consensus seemed to be that most practices could pick up 10 percent to 20 percent more patients without too much strain.)
  • Important quality metrics include how many "oops" moments caregivers have in a day, such as times when a doctor almost gave a patient the wrong dose of medicine or the wrong script, or even pulled the wrong chart, he said. (Of course, there's a thicket of additional measures being imposed by insurance companies and employers, but that's another story.)
  • Measuring employee satisfaction--in addition to performance--can be a critical method for lowering turnover and keeping staff invested in the work they do. "What's the difference between renting and buying a car?" he notes. "You don't take good care of a rental, but if you invest in a car, you care for it. That's what you want to see."
  • Still another set of metrics relate to whether your practice is providing good service. At Vanderbilt, Albert notes, his dental practice conducts 19-question patient satisfaction surveys. To his practice, the most important issues are whether patients are likely to recommend the practice, and what their overall perception of the group's service was.

Albert also spent several minutes discussing marketing strategies that went beyond metrics, including methods for building referrals. For example, he offered a detailed set of tips as to how to cultivate doctors, pharmacists and caregivers that refer to your group, ideally with a personally-written and hand-signed notes from your physicians.

But the bottom line, it seemed, is that Albert recommends that practices measure any aspect of their practice that can affect the growth of their patient base, employee satisfaction and turnover and managing expenses efficiently. What metrics will accomplish these goals? "It's all up to what matters to you," he said. "The key is to keep track of core metrics. You can't manage what you can't measure."

To learn more about Albert's practice:
- check out Vanderbilt's dentistry site

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