As margins become tighter, and compliance ever-more burdensome, there is pressure on private practices to get more from their staff. But, the rate of burnout among healthcare workers is over 40% and rising, which asks the all-important question: if practitioners in healthcare are already maxed out, how can you even consider trying to squeeze more out of your employees?
The obvious solution is to work smarter, not harder so that you can boost medical practice productivity, without running your staff into the ground.
1. Make sure you measure the right things
To paraphrase a quote by Peter Drucker, “you can’t manage what you aren’t measuring”, and even if you are trying to measure productivity, are you tracking the right metrics?
More traditional medical practice productivity metrics look at the number of clients seen and the amount of time taken with a patient. But the Harvard Business School has proposed a more accurate, helpful measurement of productivity. It’s a value equation that looks at the health outcomes that are important to the patient, divided by the cost of providing that service.
This covers factors such as the number of times and how often a client returns to the clinic, whether they feel their needs we met, and their health outcomes. A simplistic metric that looks at the lengths of client appointments doesn’t take into account the many different factors that make up the client experience. If you take the appointment length example, from a client survey you might have received the feedback that clients want longer appointments which could lead you to increase the minimum appointment time. This would mean that your staff take longer to get through the same caseload, without earning any more. Clients might be more satisfied, but does it translate into more appointments? More referrals? If it does, then there might be a case for longer appointments, but if not, then your staff are at an increased risk of burnout and you haven’t added anything to your bottom line.
Your time is much better spent trying to get a handle on how long your medical staff spends on non-core activities such as invoicing, queries, and admin. Then you can find proactive, effective ways to address these drains on your staff’s productivity.
2. Use technology to minimise unproductive (or non-value adding) tasks
This is a simple one to understand, just follow the money. Your practice earns when you’re seeing clients, whether in-person or via telehealth. If your staff are spending hours every day writing up notes, sending invoices or doing one hundred and one important, but ultimately secondary tasks, they’re not seeing clients and are less productive than they could be as a result (If you don’t believe us read Marc Eskander’s case study).
Time is the most important factor to look at because, in the healthcare field, it’s the one area that has finite limits. There are only twenty-four hours in a day, and only around eight (at a maximum) of those can be allocated to productive work. You want your staff to spend their most productive hours interacting with clients, not worrying about paperwork, appointment scheduling, and other tasks that can be replaced or streamlined with technology.
For starters, medical practices should be using:
Electronic Medical Records
Electronic clinical notes ensure that your patient records stay organised and up-to-date. A paper-based system means that all information is recording manually and takes longer to track down. The benefits of electronic notes are many, with efficiency being right up at the top of the list. But there are also the added benefits of security, legibility and consistency. With practice management software, you can use existing note templates or customise them for your practice which has the potential to make a substantial saving if you add up the time saved every day per staff member.
Here again, practice management software offers a number of different ways to streamline the appointment scheduling process. You can integrate online bookings into your website, and still remain in full control of the services you offer and your clinicians’ availability. Phone bookings are also more efficient, where a receptionist can check calendars and schedule appointments with a few clicks. Both reduce administrative costs while improving accuracy and efficiency.
When you start to look at how much no-shows cost a practice, the numbers can get quite scary, quite quickly. Rather than assigning a staff member to phone clients to remind them of their appointments, which has a cost attached to it, the task can be done automatically with SMS and email reminders. Automated SMS reminders alone can reduce no shows in a practice by 50%.
Billing and Payments
Practice management software makes invoicing faster and more accurate by assigning the payer and auto-populating insurance details, payment options, clinician information, and referral information. You can also integrate with payment processing software, saving you time on receipting too.
The use of technology reduces the administrative load on your staff, as well as freeing up mental space for yourself and your staff members to tackle new projects that will further boost your practice’s productivity.
3. Outsource to the experts
Outsourcing is something you hear about in the business world, but it’s not something health practices talk about a lot. In many cases, it’s because practice owners are first and foremost healthcare practitioners, and their role as a business owner is often a distant second. But it’s a bit like putting the cart before the horse. If your practice is running like a well-oiled machine, there’s a lot more freedom for you to spend your time doing what you love: seeing clients. Outsourcing works for all different types of businesses across a range of industries, and healthcare practices are no different.
How does outsourcing benefit your practice:
- It introduces cost savings – the cost of outsourcing tasks is often significantly lower than doing it yourself or hiring a new employee, and there’s no downtime. Recruiting and training are expensive. Outsourcing, in contrast, gives you access to skilled professionals immediately.
- It increases efficiency – most of the people you outsource to work at an hourly rate, and you only pay for the hours they work. If you can communicate what you want to be done, you’ll streamline your workflow and enjoy dependable, measurable deliverables.
- It means you can scale – if your practice is growing, it’s more important than ever to stay on top of your admin and finances. Outsourcing means that your practice can quickly and easily scale without taking on more staff or training existing employees.
- It simplifies your practice – rather than trying to keep tabs on everything, you can rely on other people to take care of some of the most important flows in your business, and you can focus on seeing clients and growing your practice.
These benefits all directly translate into higher productivity so it makes sense to identify areas of the practice that are taking time and resources without adding value to the bottom line, and then outsource them. This could be anything from complicated regulations that make compliance stressful and time-consuming, to chasing up late-payers and managing your payroll.
Areas to look at include:
Accounting and bookkeeping
In most cases, it makes sense to outsource your accounting and bookkeeping to a firm that specialises in medical practices. Not only will they keep your books in tip-top shape, but they’ll quickly pay for themselves in time spent following up with late payers and trying to make sense of your accounts. They will also make submitting tax returns and year-end financials a breeze. Plus, when you’re trying to understand your year-end financial reports or do performance reporting, you know who to call for help.
In healthcare, regulations continue to shift, and remaining compliant can be difficult. Taking the step of retaining a medical legal specialist may seem expensive, but if you are to remain in business and flourish, you need to have a good handle on the legal requirements. While it may be possible to do this yourself, it’s time-consuming, and there’s a good chance you’ll be lying awake at night wondering if you’ve submitted all your documentation correctly. When it comes to legal matters, prevention is better than a cure and any money you spend now could save you a lot more in the future.
Website Development and Maintenance
Splitting your focus in too many directions is a recipe for disaster, so it’s always a surprise when a healthcare practice decides to develop their website in-house. Website design is a specific skill set that takes years to really master. It doesn’t make sense to spend your evenings and weekends trying to get a website up and running. It’s not that it’s an impossible goal, it’s that your time is limited and could be much better spent elsewhere.
If your practice has appointment slots to fill, but no clear idea on how to do it, your next step might be to hire a marketing team that works with medical practices. Again, it’s something you could probably do yourself. But you’re not an expert, and even if you do the training and up-skill, it’s another area where you have to keep your finger on the pulse because things tend to move quite rapidly (especially online).
4. Become a stickler for standardised policies and procedures
Everyone has their own way of doing things and, while each may work, it’s certainly not the most efficient way to run a practice and it’s one of the leading reasons that practice managers end up spending their time putting out fires and re-doing work. Practice managers are also often guilty of trying to do everything themselves instead of delegating. This is rooted in the fear that staff members won’t do the job to the same standard that they would. But that kind of thinking doesn’t hold water. If you can detail all the processes that you’re involved in on a daily, weekly and monthly basis in a step-by-step guide, then there’s no reason that someone else can’t do the job in your place.
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We’ve been working alongside our healthcare clients for years, and the one thing that seems to differentiate the top-performing practices is their productivity levels. If you ask them about it, it comes down to first measuring the medical practice productivity according to metrics that make sense. Then, second, keeping a continual focus on minimising the areas of low productivity that have been identified.
If you’ve been trying to ‘do it all’ as the practice owner and are feeling overwhelmed and unproductive, it could be the perfect time to take a step back and reassess. As the saying goes:
“Don’t step over pounds to pick up pennies.”
In other words, you might be able to do everything, but it’s going to come at a cost. You are saving money when you build your own website, but you’d probably have earned more if you’d billed for those hours and left the work to the professionals. Equally, you might get the job done faster if you do it yourself, but if you can develop procedures and delegate tasks, you can use the time you free up to see clients.
For owners who are serious about growth, it comes down to improving medical practice productivity: reducing the tasks that don’t add to your bottom line and focusing on those that do. Technology can do a lot in this area, as can learning to outsource and delegate.