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Attracting and Retaining Top Clinical Staff

How many office staff members do independent practices need?

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The independent physician has to balance the need to keep overhead manageable with the need to adequately staff the practice. Too few staff members and patients are not well served. Too many staff members and the practice faces excess expenses. There is no magic formula for how many staff members an independent practice needs, but there are guidelines and suggestions that can help in the calculation.

The first step, according to guidelines provided in an article published by the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), is to compare their independent practice with industry benchmarks. Sources for available benchmarks include “the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA), Practice Support Resources (PSR), the American Medical Association (AMA) and the American Medical Group Association (AMGA), as well as local medical societies.” Benchmarks should address:

  1. The number of support staff per full-time-equivalent (FTE) physician
  2. The percentage of gross revenue spent on support staff salaries.

Another consideration when determining how many staff members an independent practice needs is to review the overall practice management style and structure. If an independent physician is organized and completes paperwork efficiently – fewer staff members might be sufficient to maintain patient records and update charts. If the practice employs advanced technology tools, such as an EHR, enabling the independent physician to access and update patient information electronically, that should also be included in the considerations.

Adequate staff members will be needed to support communication with patients, including checking in patients, answering patient questions on-site, and responding to patient telephone calls. If the independent practice collaborates with other providers or has satellite offices that require coordination of scheduling, additional staff members may be needed to ensure those services operate smoothly.

Factors that may also affect the numbers include the qualifications and ability level of each staff member. For example, a staff person who checks in patients may have the capabilities to perform other duties in the office. If the patient level is high, however, individual staff members may need to perform separate tasks.

There is no one answer to the question of how many staff members an independent practice may need. However, guidelines are available to ensure that staffing makes sense given the particular situation of each practice.