Patient volumes have recovered across the country and most medical practices have returned to a steady state of care delivery, but outpatient care has changed irrevocably. We have entered a phase marked by the crisis and marked by even more intense cost pressure and consolidation. What steps can independent medical practices take now to ensure stability and prosperity in the future?
Provide employees with a more rewarding work experience.
The Great Resignation — an unprecedented turnover in the job market brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic — has hit medical practices hard. Recruiting and retaining staff is now a major challenge.
The pressure is on practice owners, executives and administrators to make the medical practice a more pleasant place to work. How? As with the other challenges, the first step is to focus on what you can control, including the technology at your disposal.
Automation is part of the solution. It can eliminate tedious and repetitive tasks, freeing people up for more meaningful tasks. Many workers in the healthcare industry have chosen it because they enjoy it and find it satisfying to participate in caring for people, so look for opportunities to enable this. For example, a back-office employee who enters data into a computer all day may be transferred to more rewarding responsibilities, such as assisting patients with administrative matters or helping clinical staff prepare for care delivery. Use health informatics to enable the transfer of workers to higher level tasks more directly related to patient care.
Create more pathways to patient care.
Increasingly, the healthcare market demands flexibility. Independent medical practices are under pressure to provide a more convenient patient experience.
How can your practice meet this expectation? Use technology to implement easier access, online scheduling, virtual visits, and other patient-friendly options. Additionally, the practices take convenience to the next level by delivering care in community settings, such as schools, nursing homes, and homeless shelters, using mobile technology to document care.
This is a cultural change and not without challenges. Some physicians may resent the loss of control in the community versus a practice. Virtual care has limitations; for example, some conversations between patients and doctors need to take place face-to-face in real life. However, if a doctor’s office requires every 15-minute follow-up appointment to take place in the office and requires patients to sit in the waiting room for two hours, they are likely to see patients visit at competitors.
Virtual visits and community-based care delivery are strategies that allow providers to reach more patients more efficiently precisely because they are more convenient. Most physicians will welcome them if implemented thoughtfully and with the necessary support from administration and staff.
Take advantage of solutions that level the playing field.
Independent practices may feel at a disadvantage compared to larger health systems when it comes to attracting patients or negotiating with payers. However, advances in analytics can help level the playing field. The software you need is now widely available.
Use population health analysis to better understand population health care needs and identify opportunities. If your practice wants to start a screening program, for example, in which ZIP codes do the majority of people who need your services live? This is where you should start your program. Make sure you know how to translate opportunities identified by the population health system into patient education or point-of-care information.
Likewise, your practice management system should be able to produce reports that allow you to analyze resource allocation versus usage in your practice, payor payments versus their contract, and more. Clinical quality reports can help prove the quality of care you provide, and whether your delivery is effective translates into the value of your care; this data is invaluable when negotiating rates with commercial insurers or deciding whether or not to accept them. Major health care systems certainly do, but with the right technology and expertise, you can too.
Consider your own unique opportunities.
Each independent medical practice faces different circumstances and challenges. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to health care delivery.
Independent practices can thrive if they use the technology available to them in innovative ways that reflect the strengths of their practice and the needs of the population they serve. Ultimately, the core principles for shaping our future are the same:
- Observe your environment and learn its risks and opportunities.
- Adapt to change.
- Automate administrative functions wherever possible.
Then provide great care.
Robert Murry is Chief Medical Officer, NextGen Healthcare. He brings to this role over 20 years of extensive clinical experience and experience in health informatics. Previously, Dr. Murry served as the company’s Chief Medical Information Officer (CMIO) since May 2017. During his tenure as CMIO, he was the “voice of the physician” in specialties, product safety and business. governmental/regulatory. Prior to becoming CMIO, he was vice president of clinical product management for the company, responsible for clinical oversight and workflow design.
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