The role of the doctor in healthcare is changing. To ensure success, independent physicians must do more than just provide phenomenal care - they need to understand the business side of medicine too. The competing aims of running an independent medical practice and providing patient-centered care can feel overwhelming. While there’s a lot to cover – here’s a quick overview of the essentials of running an independent medical practice.
Tips and Tricks to Running an Independent Medical Practice
There are several ways that independent physicians can sharpen their practice management skills while maintaining their focus on their patients. Here are some recommendations to balance running a business and keeping your patients happy – all at once.
Before the widespread adoption of Electronic Health Records (EHRs), independent physicians would need to complete a file full of paperwork on a patient, review the information before the patient visit, and potentially wait for faxes of additional paperwork from specialty providers after the visit. Time was wasted on excessive documentation and delays in receiving information from other providers, which further increased the potential for errors and duplication – then along came the EHR.
EHRs enable physicians to easily input patient data and to have immediate access to other providers’ data on that patient. In addition, the EHR, often referred to as an EMR or electronic medical record, improves “patient safety by requiring computer-based physician orders that eliminate illegible handwriting and misinterpreted verbal orders,” according to the Harvard Business Review (HBR).
Diagnoses are more accurate, particularly for patients with chronic or complex conditions who require coordinated treatment by multiple physicians. EHRs enable those physicians to collaborate to ensure that duplications or errors are reduced and even eliminated when prescribing medications, ordering lab tests, and developing a detailed healthcare plan.
EHRs help physicians provide more accurate diagnoses while providing more collaborative care.
Finding the Right Team
As an independent physician, you have been trained and educated to treat patients. Your staff is essential to keeping your practice running smoothly. As shifting payment and business models place more demands on care coordination and patient engagement, staff plays an increasingly patient-facing role. The office staff at independent practices play a key role in ensuring that patients are happy and that you can give your attention to their medical needs.
Some of the tasks performed by office staff at independent practices include:
- Greeting and checking in patients
- Managing co-pays
- Accompanying patients to the exam room
- Performing clinical tasks to supplement the physician encounter
- Answering phone calls
- Helping patients navigate their health record and their care plans
- Scheduling appointments
- Checking insurance eligibility
- Intaking new patients
- Auditing charts and other billing-related functions
With a capable team in your office, you can spend less time worrying about administrative details and more time focusing on patient care.
When determining the number of office staff needed for independent practices, it is helpful to check industry benchmarks. It is also important for you to have an understanding of how you work – and how you prefer to work. For example, if you are well organized, tend to stay on schedule, and are generally able to complete your paperwork in a timely fashion, you will need less help in the office. If your independent practice uses an EHR system that virtually eliminates the abundance of paperwork found in a typical medical office, you will also need fewer staff members.
Gauge carefully the number of staff members you will need, be sure they know their specific responsibilities, and train them in medical office and customer service skills. Your patients will appreciate the treatment they receive from your dedicated staff, before and after they receive treatment from you as their physician.
Engaging Patients and Coordinating Care
Patient engagement is an important part of an independent physician’s role in providing high- quality care. Patient engagement means more than having a conversation during a visit. If you are a primary care physician, it means quarterbacking the patient’s care, following up to ensure the patient is completing their care plan, communicating test results, and checking in on the progress of the patient’s medical plan. It also means the difference in having that patient return for follow-up visits and quite possibly even the difference in the future health and welfare of that patient.
Key steps to improving patient engagement and care coordination:
- Continuing patient communication beyond the office visit
- Utilizing the features of an EHR
- Encouraging patient interactions at critical touchpoints
- Understanding interoperability
For independent providers, providing coordinated care can be a huge challenge. When your patients see specialty providers, have lab tests, or receive services at other healthcare facilities, the primary care provider can be left in the dark. For high-quality, coordinated care, this information is essential in making the right care decisions for patients, and it’s all about interoperability.
Interoperability has become a huge healthcare buzzword. How does it make a difference in patient care?
HIMSS defines interoperability as “the ability of different information systems, devices or applications to connect, in a coordinated manner, within and across organizational boundaries to access, exchange and cooperatively use data amongst stakeholders, with the goal of optimizing the health of individuals and populations.”
The most important outcome of interoperability is ensuring the physician can use the information that is being shared. As an independent physician, you need to be able to interpret data quickly and easily to provide your patients with quality coordinated care.
Faxes, emails, and even phone calls provide ways to share patient information. However, digital interoperability, where electronic systems are in sync, is more elusive.
Unfortunately, the lack of investment in integration tools and interoperability from large health systems means that often, EHR data is siloed in hospital EHRs and can’t be integrated to ambulatory EHRs or easily acted upon by physicians or patients.
APIs, HL7 technologies, and other integration protocols are growing, however, and more healthcare IT companies are taking an open approach to interoperability. Application program interfaces (APIs) can be a big driver for toward a more interoperable patient record. APIs essentially enable software systems to access each other’s information and can allow all of the members of a care team across applications to access patient information, including crucial data that has been inputted by other providers the patient has seen for care.
Ensure Practice Success
Running an independent medical practice takes a lot of work but is extremely rewarding. By taking the time to review the business aspects of medicine you are already on the path to success. Understanding how to handle back-office tasks effectively, optimize workflows with technology, and find a good team will provide the backbone you need to focus on patient care.
To effectively run an independent practice and get paid, you also must understand which health policies impact you and determine what type of practice model you want to implement.
For more information on these components of running an independent medical practice download our eBook: The Business of Medicine.