Five traits of an efficient business practice in a clinical office

Managing a practice in a swiftly changing reimbursement and regulatory environment is not for the faint of heart. However, evaluating foundational tenets of successful practices can assist any manager through uncertain times.

In a 2015 Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) study called, “Defining Value – Practical Applications For ‘Medical Practice Today: What members have to say,’” found that dealing with rising operational costs was the number two concern of practice managers, behind preparing for value-based payment programs.

The survey report highlights comments from Sara Brown, MGMA Government Affairs representative, where she notes that, “even when a group meets the regulations [like Meaningful Use], there is an effect on productivity, which influences a group’s bottom line when members are “Dealing with rising operating costs.””.

The emotional burden of coping productivity and efficiency issues was highlighted in a quote from one of the survey participants.

“The current environment is the worst I’ve experienced in 24 years of practice management,” said one member, who pointed to “diving incomes, overwhelming regulation, [a growing] hospital-physician communication gap, lack of physician involvement in decision-making at all levels of healthcare, a total disconnect between CMS and what is doable (MU, EHR adaption, HIPAA regulations).”

It is the job of HIE Networks’ Workflow Engineers to immerse themselves in a medical practice client’s business procedures to determine how to create the best workflow for the office. Excellent workflow begets efficiencies and can reduce operating cost.

Workflow Engineers at HIE Networks discovered several similar organizational traits within flourishing medical practices. They found the most efficient business offices have the following characteristics:

A strong manager who defines accountable measures for the team and the individual. It is important to first set a clear responsibilities for billing, records functions, and other aspects of the practice’s business side. Doing so allows for defining accountability measures and focuses employees on the task at hand.

A universal communication program between departments as part of their workflow. Communication allows departments to know the status of work throughout the organization. A digital program with real-time updates provides employees with the opportunity to provide input should an uncompleted task slow their own productivity.

Strong relationships with referring partners and practices. The most effective way to create and strengthen those relationships is to have periodic face-to-face meetings. It is much harder to ignore someone you have met at a lunch or social event than it is someone you only talk to on the phone when needed. Many successful relationship building meetings take place over lunch in a referring medical practice where colleagues ask each other what is working and what can be improved.

One unified workflow. It is as simple as it sounds, but difficult to accomplish. Sometimes duplicate workflows are created because of one person or department’s preference. Doing so hurts efficiency. HIE Networks’ Workflow Engineers have found that most offices have 2-5 different ways of doing the same task. Not only do multiple workflows affect efficiency, it creates confusion when employees leave the organization and have not documented their way of accomplishing a task. The next employee in the role has no clue how to complete the task. That does not mean that a workflow process should never change. All processes should evolve as people discover ways to improve. The HIE Networks’ Workflow Engineers encourage change because they learn ways to make their digital system better.

Clear production targets for employees. The manager of one HIE Networks client uses a whiteboard containing employee goals for each week. One recent goal was a directive to “return records to the provider within a week.” Setting goals allowed staff to understand their goals and managers to track them, evaluate compliance, praise employees who were successful and counsel those who were not.  Another manager uses a productivity report from HIE Networks’ Communication Suite that tracks department and individual productivity. Every month the manager holds a staff meeting to report department results. She then sits with them individually to show their results compared to their peers. Workload Engineers have seen dramatic results. It seems many people will self-motivate to improve if they know that people around them are more productive.

No manager wants to have a dysfunctional, unorganized, inefficient workplace. Such an environment creates tension between employees and reduces the bottomline of the organization. Being stuck in solving day-to-day issues also prevents the manager from finding flexible solutions to enhance workflow.

A manager that has created staff accountability, positive relationships, and a clearly defined workflow is then able to be creative in their search for ways to improve employee and patient satisfaction.

In the medical office environment it is very difficult to hold people accountable in large part because reports that quantify productivity are not used to assist the manager in their staff evaluations.

But those reports do exist. HIE Networks’ Communication Suite tracks productivity and creates reports used by our clients to understand the current workload, easily see who is productive, and determine how to better meet the needs of the providers and patients.