MGMA18: 3 traits of top-performing physician practices

Halee Fischer-Wright
MGMA CEO Halee Fischer-Wright says high-performing practices establish clear three- to five-year goals that help them prioritize their efforts and resources. “For most practices, we get so busy with our everyday activity. We lose sight of our long-term goal,” Fischer-Wright said. (Courtesy MGMA)

BOSTON—It turns out that top-performing physician practices have a few strengths in common.

A new report from the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA), which was distributed to attendees at the group’s annual conference in Boston this week, identified three ways that better-performing practices set themselves apart.

The three key areas of focus? Operations, strategy and culture, Halee Fischer-Wright, M.D., MGMA’s president and CEO, said in an interview with FierceHealthcare.

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For those who assumed that practices have maxed out their opportunities to improve their business outcomes, “that’s simply not true,” she says.

Here are the lessons other practices can use to take their business up a notch, including:  

Build an engaging, patient-focused culture. “Patient-focused cultures are really your number one asset in top-performing practices,” Fischer-Wright said. MGMA's research shows that effective and transparent communication and engagement between staff, providers and patients is key. For example, better performing practices conduct satisfaction surveys of all three groups and share the results throughout their organization. And naturally, it isn’t enough to conduct surveys; the practices use the results to improve performance. For instance, patient satisfaction surveys indicate that  wait times are too long or the patient portal is difficult to use. Practices need to strategize about how to solve those problems.

Focus on long-term, strategic progress. High performers establish clear three- to five-year goals that help them prioritize their efforts and resources. Yet, 70% of practices are not setting more than three-year strategic goals. “For most practices, we get so busy with our everyday activity. We lose sight of our long-term goal,” Fischer-Wright said. “Having that vision allows people to plan their resources." Also, consistently revisit that strategy to reach goals, adjusting tactics as needed.

Work constantly to improve operations. One of the biggest considerations is technology. These practices use technology as a tool that can help them streamline operations, improve communication and boost patient engagement, Fischer-Wright said: “We’re looking at constant quality improvement.”

She urges practice leaders to benchmark so they can compare their own practice to others. “It’s the axiom of what you measure matters,” she said. MGMA has data and tools to help its members benchmark their own performance.

“What the data shows is there’s no one solution to running a medical practice. There’s no single solution, just a vision of where you want to go and a long-term strategy for how to get there,” she said.

The results benefit staff and patients. For instance, the 2018 MGMA DataDive Better Performers found that these practices achieve higher productivity levels per year, resulting in lower general operating costs as a percentage of revenue and higher income per physician.

For patients, most better-performing practices offer lower wait times, with primary care practices offering a median 7.5-minute shorter wait time for patients when compared to the industry median.

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