Times are tough for physicians in private practice. Incomes are flat and potentially declining. Your clinical judgment is being questioned. You are deluged with new information and your patients take more time. Somehow you have to see your patients, manage the business side, and have a life of your own.
2006 was a wait and see year. Now that we can see where the industry is going, it´s time to execute strategies that will put you in the best — and most profitable — position.
1. Get a website: The AMA subsidiary Medem (www.medem.com) offers very low cost ($30 a month) websites for physicians. Your patients are using the web to learn about you, your practice, their symptoms and to check up on your treatment recommendations. You should be the trusted source of information, and a website is the critical tool to be in this role.
2. Evidence based medicine: Are you using the latest standards for treating heart disease, diabetes and other critical conditions? Many physicians are using treatments despite compelling evidence that they are not the best treatment — or even worthwhile. Use the multitude of performance measures out there as a guide. Your specialty society will usually offer guidance.
3. Prepare for P4P: Like it or not, the work of physicians is going to be measured against best evidence practices and outcomes of your patients. Some dismiss it as "cookbook medicine". Use the recipe as a foundation and inspiration. With $2 trillion in play, people are asking questions — and they deserve answers.
4. Plan for EHS: Here to stay. The option for hospitals to help you financially to buy an EHS system is an enormous benefit. On the other hand, make sure that you get what you want, need and will use, not just what the hospital wants you to use. In negotiating with the hospital, ask a lot of questions, particularly: what do they want to achieve with you having an EHS system? What information is important for them?
5. Does your staff understand what you do? While your staff may have picked up a lot just by working with you, the more they know, the more they can help you. Shut for a long lunch once a month, and teach you staff more about what you do: what you look for in a physical exam, the most common drugs and therapies you prescribe (from you, not the vendors), and so on.
6. Be proactive in prevention: A patient doesn´t leave the ophthalmologist or dentist without a follow-up appointment. If your specialty is one which "should" be doing routine preventive or follow-up care, don´t rely on the patient to initiate the call. Set appointments, send reminders and call — and tell them why it´s important for their health.
7. Look professional: Take a look at your office, your forms, your letters, your dress and appearance, the dress and appearance of your staff. The Wal-mart look isn´t working for Wal-mart either. The Target look is in this year — a bit of style and design at a reasonable price. Replace the carpet, paint, change the pictures, clean the light fixtures, put in some plants. Redo your forms for clarity, a larger typeface (at least 12 point, maybe 13 for older folks), and stop using the copy of a copy of a copy to make the next copies. Order name badges for all of your staff.
Yeah, it´s tough out there. But tomorrow a patient will clasp your hand and thank you for everything you´ve done for them.
Happy New Year!