by Nikolaos I. Kakavoulis, MD
Physicians are working harder than ever to generate even a small increase in their income. Despite seeing more patients, average physicians net income between 1995 and 2003 has declined about 7% after adjusting for inflation, according to a national study from the Center for Studying Health System Change.
Why is this happening?
Now more than ever, physicians face an avalanche of complex rules, regulations, and administrative processes needed to run their practices. At the same time, practice costs are increasing and reimbursement rates are declining.
Physicians didn’t go to medical school to be in business – but with 87% of physicians in practices of 5 physicians or less, they are often times splitting their time with patients to essentially run a business. Wearing that hat means that physicians need to start clearly identifying and addressing key revenue drains on their practice to ensure that they continue to remain competitive and profitable. And depending on the market, there may be hundreds of physicians competing for the same pool of patients. Education and research on the latest tools and practices that will help to make their practice stand out, is imperative.
One of the primary revenue drains, vacant appointment times, is shockingly simple to diagnose. However, for newly graduated residents looking to build their practices, driving awareness and booking appointments can be a challenge. What’s even more surprising according to the Medical Group Management Association is that even physicians with busy practices and long wait lists lose 12% of their available appointment times daily, due to patients that don’t show up, or cancel at the last minute.
Scheduling delays are another challenge facing physician practices. A 2008 Athena Health white paper found that 40% of appointments scheduled more than 20 days prior get canceled or are no-shows. That rate drops to 7% for day-of appointments. Given that Americans wait an average of 20 days between making an appointment and seeing a doctor according to a 2009 Merritt Hawkins survey, it is no wonder that even physicians with busy practices face this last minute, daily drain on their income.
Thankfully with the Internet and the recent emergence of Health 2.0, physicians now have access to online tools that make tackling these problems both easy and cost effective. Several online applications exist today that remind patients of their upcoming appointments, streamline appointment scheduling, and help increase doctors’ visibility among new patients browsing the web.
To help remain competitive and profitable, here are some ideas physicians might want to consider:
· Implementing automated reminder calls, emails or text messages ahead of scheduled appointments
· Highlighting their available appointment times and last minute cancellations online to patients
· Growing their patient base through direct marketing and referrals
Nikolaos I. Kakavoulis is a member of the founding team at HealthLeap.
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