Four simple strategies to help physicians bolster the financial health of their medical practices.
Becoming a physician in the United States isn’t easy. The trials and tribulations associated with four years of medical school, three years of residency, and, if you want to specialize, several more years of a fellowship are legendary even among the general population — there’s a reason the medical field sits atop the charts of professional prestige.
Upon being one of a selective few to receive their medical degree, you went the extra step, and took the added risk of opening your own practice. You have worked your tail off, putting in the extra hours to build and grow your practice, but independently owned practices are harder and harder to grow.
Why? First: The health care reimbursement landscape is changing. Payers are exerting more pressure on private practices by establishing barriers to reimbursement, and reducing reimbursement: in effect, exploiting their outsize market leverage over small-scale operations. Doctors increasingly have to work 20% harder for 20% less.
Second: rigorous as it is, the educational journey from pre-med to practitioner rarely teaches doctors how to run a business, and at the end of the day, a private practice is just that: a business. There are budgets to balance, staff to hire, and “customers” (i.e. patients) to keep happy, all of which requires a completely different set of skills than for work in the exam room.
Of course, none of this is beyond their capabilities: doctors simply need to take a step back and survey their practices — not as physicians, but as businesspeople. To that end, here are four of the most important things for every physician to keep in mind when trying to expand their medical practice.
1. Deliver an Exemplary Patient Experience
Growing a private practice is a two-pronged endeavor. Acquiring new patients gets the lion’s share of the attention, but retaining existing patients is just as important, if not more so (minimizing attrition is usually cheaper than executing a full-fledged recruitment campaign). Fortunately, by making a concerted effort to deliver an exemplary experience to each and every patient, physicians can tackle both of these challenges simultaneously.
This begins with hiring the right — and enough — staff, as it’s impossible to keep the “care” in healthcare if employees are disinterested or constantly preoccupied with putting out administrative fires. Instead of taking a reactionary approach to staffing — that is, scrambling to make new hires after your patient base exceeds your practice’s capacity — you should always be on the lookout for potential hires who seem to be a good fit for your practice.
The value of staff members who are able to develop a rapport with your patients cannot be overstated. Patients often engage with two, three, four employees before they even see you, and, unfair as it may be, their perception of your practice can be damaged by a single curt interaction.
That said, as the top administrator, the buck stops with you. It’s incumbent upon physicians to craft and instate policies and procedures that streamline tasks like scheduling appointments, filing insurance claims, importing/exporting health records, and so forth. Further, it’s absolutely essential to demonstrate to patients that you are personally invested in their wellbeing, whether by fine-tuning your bedside manner, welcoming (or even encouraging) nonessential follow-up appointments, or experimenting with on-call telemedicine.
Taken together, the right people, processes, and physician’s priorities amount to the kind of patient-centric ethos that not only keeps current clients on the roster, but inspires them to share their positive experiences with friends, family, and even coworkers. Ultimately, high patient satisfaction and strong word of mouth publicity emerge from the same source, namely, your willingness to put your patients’ needs first.
2. Become a Presence in the Community
While strong word of mouth publicity plants the seed of your practice’s growth, proactive engagement with your community is what causes that seed to germinate. In 2018, this means participating in community conversations both on- and offline.
According to the Pew Research Center, 44 percent of internet users look for information about healthcare professionals — especially reviews — online. This practice isn’t limited to Millennials, either, as 42 percent of internet users between the ages of 56 and 64 claim to have researched a physician on their computer.
Especially in recent years, much of this research has been conducted via search (i.e. Google) and social (i.e. Facebook). In fact, 40 percent of consumers admit that information they’ve found through social media has impacted their healthcare decisions, and an astounding 90 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds say that they trust medical information shared by members of their social media networks.
While many physicians remain wary of leveraging platforms like Facebook for business purposes, the reality is that this is where important healthcare conversations are taking place. As long as you’re strategic in your usage — for instance, disabling comments on your profile page insulates you from HIPAA violations stemming from patients who are a little too eager to divulge sensitive information in a semi-public forum — social media can help you establish a well-defined presence in the (digital) places where current or potential patients come to get guidance for their healthcare decisions.
Similarly, publishing regularly on an onsite blog — and publicizing your work via social media — is a great way to increase your organic search rankings on Google, ensuring that your practice will show up on the first page of results when a potential patient searches for “[x] specialist in my area.”
As essential as a robust online presence has become, it would be a mistake to assume that patients no longer care about good old-fashioned facetime. Whether you and your staff set aside a weekend to participate in a community service project or fundraiser or you dust off your academic speaking chops to participate in a local medical conference, becoming a recognizable face around town — even if only in certain circles — is an incredibly effective patient recruitment tool.
3. Pay Attention to Branding
The particulars of both the patient experience you provide and the community presence you maintain should be guided by your unified vision for your practice, or in business terms, your brand. Competition for patients can be fierce, and your practice’s growth often hinges on whether you’re able to set yourself apart from patients’ other options.
Especially in the healthcare space, good branding is characterized by two things: authenticity and consistency. If you’ve positioned “convenience” at the center of your practice’s brand, you need to invest extra energy and, if necessary, resources in building workflows that actually make your patients’ lives easier — for instance, if you’re a pediatrician, office hours that start before local schools do. Today’s patients are savvy consumers, and if they see you failing to live up to the standards you’ve set with your branding, you’re not going to jump to the top of anyone’s list.
Further, you need to let your practice’s brand influence everything that you do, not just serve as a one-off recruitment tool. If your practice specializes in the treatment of a particular condition or group of conditions, make sure your prospective patients are aware of it. If you’ve positioned yourself as an “innovator,” you need to be open to new ideas, technologies, and workflows over the long haul. A risk you took five years ago hardly amounts to compelling innovator bonafides; if your brand is innovation, you need to innovate on a consistent basis, period. Similarly, you’d be ill-advised to position yourself as an innovator on social media but speak exclusively in traditionalist terms in the exam room. In branding, consistency is the name of the game.
Finally, as difficult as it may be, it’s valuable to build your practice’s brand around a handful of key attributes or specialized offerings. It’s humbling to admit that you’re not the best at everything that you do, but, again, savvy patients are going to grow suspicious if every physician in town touts their practice as the indisputable leader in every regard. It’s impossible for a single practice to be everything to everyone, so your best bet is to figure out what makes you unique and tailor your branding accordingly.
4. Expand Your Services Strategically
While consistency is of the utmost importance in your branding, you shouldn’t mistake stagnation for consistency. Patient populations change, and catering to patients’ shifting needs and expectations is often the best way to both keep your current patients satisfied and recruit new patients.
For instance, if you notice that your once retiree-heavy patient population has started to skew younger, you might want to consider adding a pediatrician to your practice to treat your 30- and 40-something patients’ children, making your practice a one-stop-shop for families. Alternatively, if you seem to be losing patients to mini-clinics at drugstores or urgent care facilities in the area, consider adding a physician’s assistant to your roster to take walk-in appointments for routine exams.
Ultimately, the expansion of your services should always be guided by a single North Star: making patients’ lives easier. When it comes to time-consuming treatments like infusion therapy, the best way to fulfill this imperative is to install an infusion center right in your office. Patients in need of infusion therapy will find themselves much more at home in an office setting than at a hospital, especially if they are already familiar with your practice and comfortable with your staff.
By partnering with OI Infusion Services, your practice can provide patients new and old with the infusion therapy they need without breaking the bank. With turnkey in-office infusion center management from OI Infusion, we handle all of the installation, maintenance, and administrative costs of your in-office infusion center, freeing up your staff to do what they do best: help patients.
Interested in how an in-office infusion center can help you grow your practice? Schedule a free consultation target="_blank" with OI Infusion today!