The summer is usually when new associates arrive for new employment at medical practices. The newly hired doctor could be a drag on a practice’s finances if he or she is not made busy as quickly as possible. What’s needed therefore is advance preparation. The time for action is now to plan for the arrival of the new associate.
A practice has completed, or is continuing to go through, its recruiting efforts to employ a new physician who most likely will join the practice in July, August, or September of this year. Considering up front costs, including malpractice insurance, and the new physician’s monthly salary from the start, a practice could face some strained finances until his or her work gets on course (i.e. productive). This is because it will usually take time for the new physician to become accepted by the practice’s patients and referrers and for the practice’s staff to begin filling up the new physician’s appointment schedule. The one exception is if a hospital is providing recruitment financial assistance to recruit the new physician.
Practices Need to Act
So what can a medical practice do to expedite up this process? The first thing is to make sure the practice starts preparing several months before the new doctor’s arrival. The objective should be that the new physician will walk into a busy-and-productive-schedule on “Day One.” If not “Day One”, then as quickly as possible. The following are some simple steps a practice can take:
Make sure the office schedule (or computer scheduling package) is designed in a way so that the new doctor’s hours are visible and capable of being booked. This sounds extremely simple but many appointment books are way too cluttered and difficult to make appointments in. This is important since many appointments are made weeks in advance, so the appointment book has to be ready.
The front desk needs to be instructed to book appointments for the new physician whenever possible. Create a system whereby staff can begin promptly steering patients into the new doctor’s schedule. This includes properly instructing the front desk personnel on how this needs to be accomplished. For example, how will new patients be rotated to the new physician, especially those that call and don’t ask for an appointment with a specific physician in the practice. Before the new physician even shows up, a good objective it to try to have the first week booked as much as possible.
Look for Patients
Assign a staff member to review active and inactive charts to find all patients whose conditions relate to the new doctor’s special training. Send a special letter to those patients, or telephone them.
Order new letterheads, business cards, appointment cards and prescription blanks that include the new associate’s name. Make sure your office signs and building directories have his or her name posted by the starting date.
Letter to Physicians
The practice needs to prepare and send an introductory letter – not a formal announcement card – to all the physicians within the practice service area. Include them all, whether they are presently referring to the practice or not.
Plan an open house that should occur within a month after the new physician arrives at the practice. Attendees should include both patients and physicians.
Prepare and send an introductory letter to the practice’s active and even inactive patients. The letter should emphasize the new associate’s capabilities, concentrating on special training and medical interests.
Letter to Referring Doctor Employees
If the practice receives most of its business by doctor referral, it should also send a separate introductory letter to the receptionists and office managers of referring and potentially referring physicians’ offices. As we are all aware, they may control referrals more than you might think.
Send out a Press Release
Consider preparing a press release to send to the local newspapers to alert them to the practice’s new associate’s arrival.
Prepare advertisements that can be placed in local newspapers announcing the arrival of the new physician. These advertisements should run at least a month before and a month after the new physician arrives.
The practice should create a marketing plan for the new associate. Never assume a new physician, especially those just coming out of residency or fellowship, know how to get a patient – They don’t!! If the doctor isn’t busy at the beginning of his or her practice, at least keep the doctor busy with marketing activities. The following are a few marketing ideas:
1. Contact the hospital and see how the new physician can be integrated in the hospital’s marketing activities.
2. Get the doctor to write articles for local magazines and employer newsletters.
3. Set up brown bag lunches where the new physician can speak to employees of local companies.
4. Set up as many speaking opportunities as you can for the new physician.
5. Make sure the new physician sends thank-you cards for new patient referrals; both to physicians and patients.
6. If the new physician relies on physician referrals for new patients, make sure he or she “hangs out” in the hospital’s physician lounge as much as possible. The goal is to meet as many potential referring physicians as possible.
7. Likewise, the new physician should take prospective referring physicians to lunch or dinner as much as possible during the first year of employment.
Many practices operate in service areas dominated by managed care plans. As such, there are two issues that impact the arrival of a new physician: Getting on the provider panels and getting new patients.
Getting on the Plans
If a practice’s patient base comes mainly from managed care programs, it is imperative that the practice get the new physician credentialed on these plans as soon as possible. Otherwise, the doctor won’t be able to see any of these types of patients until credentialing has occurred, which could take three to seven months after the credentialing application has been submitted. Therefore, you need to make sure the practice is getting the application packets and starting to complete them at least three months before the new physician arrives at the practice. This way, the practice will only have to complete a few more items (ex. Hospital credentials) after the doctor arrives. This will allow the practice to submit all applications as quickly as possible.
Never assume that a new doctor to the practice will be able to get on a plan just because the doctors in the group practice are contracting with a managed care plan. Many managed care plans now are closing their provider panels to new doctors because they believe they already have enough doctors contracted in that particular medical specialty. Therefore, group practices should include in their managed care contracts a provision that if the practice recruits a new physician, that physician will become a member of the plan as long as he or she passes the normal hospital credentialing process.
Getting New Patients
When physicians sign with managed-care plans, they often feel that no further marketing efforts directed toward managed care enrollees are necessary. Usually, when a managed care plan enrollee gets ill, he or she chooses a physician by looking in the physician roster book or asking a fellow employee to give a referral.
The goal of marketing in a managed-care atmosphere is to eliminate both of these customs. A managed care enrollee should have the practice in mind and call it directly when he or she needs medical attention. To achieve this, the practice and the new physician must concentrate on marketing efforts that increase its visibility. The new physician could call the human resources directors at the companies that pay premiums to the managed care plan and inquire about presenting a seminar to the employees. If the employer or managed care plan has a newsletter, perhaps the physicians can submit articles. Finally, the practice can offer free or reduced-rate services to the employees of the companies. Examples include cholesterol testing and blood pressure screening. These kinds of activities will bring much needed visibility to the practice and generate patients’ visits to the office.
As previously mentioned, a referral-based practice in a managed care setting should review the providers on each of the plans. If no referral relationship is in place, the new physician should attempt to establish a relationship so it can expand his or her list of potential referring physicians.
Reed Tinsley, CPA is a Houston-based CPA, Certified Valuation Analyst, and Certified Healthcare Business Consultant. He works closely with physicians, medical groups, and other healthcare entities with managed care contracting issues, operational and financial management, strategic planning, and growth strategies. His entire practice is concentrated in the health care industry. Please visit www.rtacpa.com