Similar to the mid to late 1990’s, medical practice management today has begun to be dominated by mergers, affiliations, and other external strategic initiatives aimed, ideally, at enhancing economic potential and performance within a rapidly-changing industry landscape. Preserving market share, improving contracting capabilities, seeking technological improvements and innovation, and obtaining cost efficiencies have been just some of the objectives sought, often leaving little time for much else.
Somewhat forgotten during this same period has been some of the basic or fundamental aspects of medical practice. As a result, we, as the general health care industry, and especially in regard to physician-group practices, have actually lagged other industries in some areas of technological innovation as well as in terms of focusing on core business process improvement opportunities.
Many commonly-followed processes and procedures in medical practices today are simply the by-products of years of habit. Alarmingly few were developed based upon formal study and analysis of patient flow or corresponding work flow. As a result, practices have many core processes that are inefficient and/or redundant activities that provide no added value to either the patient experience or the business enterprise goals. Perhaps the brightest aspect of this situation is that, at a time when nearly all practices are keenly interested in identifying any and all ideas that can add some near-term weight to the bottom line, the fact that many processes have much room for improvement is actually good news.
The starting point for any process improvement project is to determine – explicitly – what would constitute genuine improvement, i.e. what the goals are. Simply knowing that you want a given process to be “efficient” or “effective” does not provide any real identification of the key measures of that process. Objective self evaluation can be a challenge, and it is often difficult to find on your own the kind of good benchmarking information that you will want to be using. However you chose to move forward, be sure to not short-change this step. For example, if you were looking at your billing and collection processes, the focal points (not in any particular order) might include:
- Reduce (and where possible eliminate) paper, especially redundancy in data gathering and paper storage processes.
- Increase the use of technology where cost efficiency and patient convenience are quantifiable.
- Create the most efficient physician flow process in terms of how the physicians work within the office. Identify ways to enhance physician time management, create new patient appointment slots within the existing time available.
- Create a friendly and efficient patient environment; one that minimizes the complexities they must face in their receipt of care, processing of forms, bills, etc.
- Create a secure environment for patients; one that promotes confidence in confidentiality and privacy.
- Maximize human resource productivity and efficiency by eliminating duplication of job functions and/or processes.
- Utilize the square footage/facilities of the practice offices more efficiently and cost effectively.