Patient volume has recovered across the country, and most medical offices are back to a steady state of care delivery—but ambulatory care has changed irrevocably. We’ve entered a phase shaped by crisis and marked by even more intense cost pressure and consolidation. What steps can independent medical practices take now to help ensure stability and prosperity moving forward?
Offer employees a more rewarding work experience.
The great resignation—unprecedented turnover in the labor market sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic—hit medical practices hard. Recruiting and retaining staff is now a major challenge.
The pressure is on practice owners, executives, and administrators to make the medical office a more desirable place to work. How? As with other challenges, the first step is to focus on what you can control, including the technology at your disposal.
Automation is part of the solution. It can eliminate tedious, repetitive tasks, freeing people from more meaningful assignments. Many workers in the health care industry have chosen it because they enjoy it and find it satisfying to be part of helping to care for people, so look for opportunities to enable this. For example, a back-office worker who enters data into a computer all day can be shifted to more rewarding responsibilities, such as helping patients with administrative questions or helping clinical staff prepare for the delivery of care. Use health IT to enable the shift of workers to higher-level tasks more directly connected to patient care.
Create more paths to patient care.
Increasingly, the health care marketplace demands flexibility. Independent medical practices are under pressure to provide a more convenient patient experience.
How can your practice meet this expectation? Use technology to implement easier access, online scheduling, virtual visits, and other patient-friendly options. In addition, practices take convenience to a higher level by delivering care in community settings, such as schools, nursing homes, and homeless shelters, using mobile technology to document care.
This a cultural shift and not without challenges. Some physicians may resent losing control in the community versus an office. Virtual care has limitations; for example, some conversations between patients and doctors must occur face-to-face in real life. However, if a medical practice requires every 15-minute follow-up appointment take place in the office and makes patients sit in the waiting room for two hours, they are likely to see patients go to competitors.
Virtual visits and community-based care delivery are strategies that allow providers to reach more patients in ways that can be more effective precisely because they are more convenient. Most physicians will welcome them if they are implemented thoughtfully and with the necessary support from the administration and staff.
Take advantage of solutions that level the playing field.
Independent practices may perceive themselves at a competitive disadvantage with large health systems when it comes to attracting patients or negotiating with payers. However, advances in analytics can help level the playing field. The software you need is now widely available.
Use population health analytics to better understand the population’s health care needs and identify opportunities. If your practice wants to initiate a screening program, for example, in what zip codes do the majority of people who need your services live? That’s where you should start your program. Make sure you know how to translate opportunities identified by the population health system into outreach to patients or insights at the point of care.
Similarly, your practice management system should be able to produce reports that allow you to analyze resource allocation vs. utilization in your practice, payer payments vs. their contract, etc. Clinical quality reports can help prove the quality of care you deliver, and if your delivery is efficient, that translates to the value of your care; these data are invaluable when negotiating rates with commercial insurance payers or deciding whether to accept them at all. Large health care systems are certainly doing this, but with the right technology and expertise, you can too.
Consider your own unique opportunities.
Every independent medical practice faces different circumstances and different challenges. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to health care delivery.
Independent practices can thrive if they use the technology at their disposal in innovative ways that reflect the strengths of their practice and the needs of the population they serve. Ultimately, the core principles for shaping our future are the same:
- Observe your environment, and learn its risks and opportunities.
- Adapt to change.
- Automate administrative functions wherever possible.
Then deliver great care.
Robert Murry is chief medical officer, NextGen Healthcare. He brings to this position more than 20 years of extensive clinical experience and background in health IT. Previously, Dr. Murry served as the company’s chief medical information officer (CMIO) since May 2017. During his time as CMIO, he was the “voice of the physician” across specialties, product safety, and government/regulatory affairs. Before becoming CMIO, he was the company’s vice president of clinical product management, responsible for clinical oversight and workflow design.
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