Medical Practice Assessment
Recently a medical practice administrator posted a question on the use and effectiveness of hiring an outside consultant to perform a medical practice assessment. Some responses actually discouraged using outside consultants because either consultants would try to sell more services or consultants should be used to do an assessment only after major changes have occurred or assessments should be performed internally. One response however expressed the positive value but addressed the central issue by saying be careful which consultant you hire and do your due diligence in selecting the firm and the pricing structure.
The medical practice administrator had a few concerns. First, it seemed to her that whether to use a consultant to perform a medical practice assessment is not the issue but selecting the right consultant is the answer, much like any hiring or buying. Secondly, how can you have objectivity and independence if the assessment is done internally when you maybe evaluating yourself. Third, who in the practice really has the time to do the assessment, thus, it may never get done.
As a physician CPA and healthcare consultant, I’ve performed numerous medical practice assessments over my career. The concerns raised by the medical practice administrator above are certainly valid and true. Let me address each one.
Hiring the right consultant
Like hiring any personal to render a professional service for your medical practice, you must do your homework and due diligence. Review the consultant’s website, ask for references, and talk about prior assessment engagements performed and what were the results found. Review the consultant’s CV and what healthcare organizations is he or she involved in. For example, is the consultant a member of the National Society of Certified Healthcare Business Consultants?
Internal versus external assessment
A practice assessment performed by someone with a fresh perspective can identify opportunities that may not be readily apparent to those with an inside point of view, or frame known opportunities in a different way that allows the practice to overcome whatever obstacles have been standing in the way of progress. Whether you’re a consultant, or a medical practice administrator, there is almost always low hanging fruit.
I would say that the value of a consultant practice assessment depends on what you want/need to accomplish. In a practice that’s struggling, a practice assessment can help clarify and prioritize what needs to be done. The same holds true in a practice that may be doing very well, but is uncertain about where to go from the current state.
A practice assessment may be less valuable for a practice that is doing reasonably well and has good strategic and tactical plan, since a practice assessment is part of developing such plans. Doing another assessment could just add to, or confirm, the to-do list, and that may or may not be helpful.
There’s no inherent reason that a physician practice executive can’t do an effective assessment of his or her own business, but an outside consultant has the advantage of a broader perspective, freedom from the constraints of the practices internal conventional wisdom, and being relatively free from political constraints. An internally performed practice assessment may have the advantage of more in-depth knowledge of the business, and ownership of the results.
Trying to Sell Additional Services
Concerns about consultants using the practice assessment to sell additional services are legitimate, especially when the practice assessment is really just a thinly veiled sales tool. Another legitimate concern is consultants who feel that they have to come up with some major revelation in order to justify their fee. I think this can be addressed by being up front about expectations, looking at the scope of services offered by the consultant, and checking references carefully to find a consultant who is a good fit.
Can you perform your own internal medical practice assessment? Of course you can. But a independent fresh set of eyes periodically can never hurt.