Avoid Bad Business Practices

July 23, 2011

Your medical practice or group works hard to settle on a sound market­ing plan and your physicians pride themselves on their clinical reputations. Yet common, often over­looked business practices often undermine these posi­tives and trash your group’s reputation with referrers and local businesspeople. In fact, you’d be surprised how word gets around — par­ticularly in smaller communi­ties — about bad practices your group or some individual members perpetuate. Here are sev­eral “bad practices” I’ve seen occur in medical groups that may help you erase any negatives that may be undermining your group marketing and reputation-building efforts.

Paying bills late

Sure, it’s “unfair” from a cash flow standpoint, since the government and other insurers are cutting down reimbursement while overhead continues to rise. But don’t ex­pect those businesses you deal with in the community to know — or understand — the concept of medical practice economics. Make sure that your staffers process bills quickly and that your man­agers responsible for reviewing payments or doctors signing checks do so on a timely basis. Always pay bills in less than 30 days; consistently late payment will gain your solo practice or group a poor reputation that spreads quickly through your community.

Breaking promises and commitments

Stay true to commitments you make to others. These may be as simple as fulfilling an informal promise made at a social gathering to forward treat­ment information to a referring physician. Whenever you make a promise, make a note and follow through the next day. It’s as simple as having a staffer make copies and mail them attached to your handwritten note.

A small commitment like this may seem unimpor­tant to you, but it can mean a lot to the person you promise the information to — and s/he may have told several people about it. When you don’t follow through, you can bet the disappointed person will tell others. Those who break minor promises and commit­ments may appear untrustworthy — and you and your physi­cians need to carry an aura of trustworthiness.

The same holds true for practice-wide commit­ments. If your group promises shorter wait times, same-day appointments or 24-hour report turnaround, be sure to have the systems in place well before your marketing efforts say so.

Turning mistakes into the customer’s problem

Correct your group’s mistakes immediately and overwhelmingly in your customer’s favor. The customer may be the patient, local hospital, a referrer or someone else you simply do business with, like a local creditor you accidentally underpaid. Correcting patient mistakes proves particularly critical in these litigious times. Errors don’t have to be clinical in nature. They may have to do with a patient’s bill, appointment or simple miscommunication.

Every practice makes mistakes – we are human. What matters is how quickly and completely you and staff work to correct them. Accepting responsibility is a good business practice, while looking to put blame elsewhere — particularly on the customer impacted by the mistake — makes for bad business. The positive “publicity” and customer loyalty that comes from accepting your mistake and correcting it in the customer’s favor make up for any money you lose from the mistake itself.

There are, of course, other business practices that can put you in a positive or negative light. The bottom line is to make your policies and daily actions are attenta­tive to community reputation and customer loyalty. Avoid “undoing” the hard work you put into building your practice’s reputation.

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

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