Health reform: Six steps to prep now

While all physicians aren't necessarily celebrating the anniversary of the Affordable Care Act this month, there's less ambivalence over the idea that practices have an enormous task ahead of them in preparing for the full implementation of the landmark reform law.

A recent piece in Physicians Practice provides an excellent overview of steps practices should be taking now-even before all the unknowns are answered-to comply with and survive the new requirements.

Here are your top action items:

Accept that change is coming. Regardless of what an accountable care organization (ACO) may specifically look like or the fate of reform challenges making their way through the courts, it fairly safe to say at this point that the way you practice is in the midst of a process of permanent change.

"Fundamentally, in the future, it will not be feasible for practices to look and operate the way they do right now," Emad Rizk, MD, president of McKesson Health Solutions, told Physicians Practice associate editor Keith L. Martin.

Act on knowledge instead of fear. "A lot of the anxiety and concern I hear is driven by the fact that larger organizations may be, for lack of a nicer term, taking advantage of that anxiety and saying, 'You better join us now or you won't have a future,'" says Roland A. Goertz, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, defining "larger organizations" as hospitals and larger physician groups.

But having met directly with CMS officials regarding the future structure of ACOs, Goertz says he has "gotten assurance" that "all practice types will and should be able to survive in this model ... as it will be more market driven."

In addition, physicians need to recognize their own powerful position regarding ACOs and other forms of alignment with other organizations, notes Kip Piper, a senior consultant with Sellers Dorsey in Washington, D.C.

"Everyone--including me--is telling hospitals and health systems that you have to work with your physicians as it is absolutely critical," he says. "You won't be able to know what you need in order to improve performance and ultimately receive the savings ... or even provide 'accountable care' without physicians. You can't do it."

Analyze your current performance. "The problem that most physicians face ... is that you run into two fundamental problems - you can't fix what you can't see and you can't manage what you don't count," Piper says. Although you should already be benchmarking key practice performance metrics, there's no time like the present to fine-tune your operations and enhance efficiency.

Embrace technology. Instead of pushing back against being required to eventually adopt an electronic health record and other technologies, recognize that you likely can't afford to lag behind in an increasingly wired world.

"[Practices] need to start looking at their infrastructure and figure out how, in the next year or two, how they can automate as many processes as possible," Rizk says. "That is the only way to do it. ...If everything they do is manual, they will see an erosion of margins."

Shine with service. Healthcare consumerism is not going away. You need to give patients compelling reasons to stick with you and not leave for someone else more willing to accommodate their needs.

Network with your peers. Don't face these challenges in a bubble. Instead, reach out to your physician peers through industry meetings, medical societies and online networks.

And of course, stay up-to-date on all of the latest health reform news and must-have advice for strengthening your practice by reading FiercePracticeManagement! - Deb