MGMA 2009: Time to get your business moving

Today, another MGMA session was held in which an extremely sharp consultant explained how physicians could improve their practice operations, quality, turnover rates, patient satisfaction and financial position. At this point I shouldn't have been too surprised, but the session was rather sparsely attended.

Of course, the nearby meeting in which a speaker laid out the probable ramifications of current health reform legislation was packed to the walls--practically the rafters--as the speaker explained what new rules practices will have to follow if the current monster health reform draft becomes law.

To me, the contrast in attendance between the two sessions is very telling. On the one hand you have a session which is calling upon practice managers and physician executives to take control of factors within their power--such as their staffing practices, financial controls and marketing efforts--and in the other, group leaders are being told what they'll have to do to meet someone else's rules.

Compliance with the law is no joke, of course, and getting informed is a completely legitimate use of conference time. On the other hand, why would a session on how to build your business, presumably something which requires 110 percent of your effort and loyalty, see a paltry crowd--one which, in fact, trickled out during the well-delivered session.

The answer, my friends, is not one I'm happy to report, but one that seems very clear. Physicians and their administrative staff are so used to reacting (to market forces, legislation, insurance tactics, competition and more) that few think like leaders of other capitalistic enterprises. While they may keep up with the basics of bringing the money in, controlling expenses and trying to make sure patients are happy, they're just not pouring the energy into these things that, say, retailers do. And as healthcare gradually becomes more of a retail business, this is bad news.

It comes down to this: If doctors aren't ready to think like retailers--the masters of keeping costs low and quality decent to high--and don't exert more control over the finer points of their operations, they might as well hang out a "for sale" sign right now. Forget wondering whether you'll be bought by a hospital or health plan--it's just a question of which one, assuming you stay in business.

I realize I'm being harsh, here, but I think a wake-up call is needed. While I do sympathize with doctors, who'd much prefer to focus completely on care in most cases, that's just not the world we live in. Taking control of hard, cold business metrics may not feel very comfortable, but it's the only thing to do. Why not start now? - Anne