Time is money: 4 ways to manage practice productivity, organize staff
Greater efficiency can help physicians boost their bottom line
Time is the physician’s most important resource. Although healthcare is moving toward fee-for-outcome-based payment models, most physician income still depends largely on effective time use based on the number and intensity of services provided. Because reimbursements do not seem to be keeping pace with escalating costs, physicians need to focus on efficiency.
Harnessing time by creating workflows and processes can boost physician and staff productivity, increase revenue and improve patient care. But physicians face regulatory and administrative burdens on a daily basis that threaten their ability to use time most effectively. There are strategies doctors can embrace to improve productivity, and reduce these daily hassles.
It starts with putting detailed processes in place that physicians and employees can turn to when navigating challenges, allowing each practice member to do the work they are trained to do, and freeing up the physician to do what he or she does best: treat patients.
“This is about taking decision-making out of a doctor’s hands, and placing it in the hands of a protocol,” says Frederick Turton, MD, MBA, MACP, medical director of general internal medicine at Emory University Hospital Midtown in Atlanta.
1. Mapping workflow
It’s often hard to identify tasks that could be performed capably by another employee or done in a more efficient manner because activities just become part of the everyday workflow with no real rhyme or reason. This is why a workflow analysis is a crucial step to improving efficiencies and productivity.
Performing a workflow analysis can be a lengthy process. It involves looking at every process and mapping out each step and who performs it. Because there are dozens, if not hundreds, of processes to choose from, practices should start with obvious pain points, says Jeff Hummel, MD, MPH, medical director for healthcare informatics at Qualis Health, a Seattle-based nonprofit healthcare quality improvement and consulting organization.
Physician practices looking to start mapping processes should focus on three key areas that can provide the most benefit, says Frank Cohen, MPA, a practice management consultant in Clearwater, Florida and Medical Economics editorial consultant.
The key areas to map include:
- the patient visit (from check-in to check-out),
- the billing cycle (from patient check-out, through the reimbursement process, to payment posting), and
- the clinical event
Each of these process areas can be broken down into more distinct processes. For example, in the clinical event area, the practice could analyze the turn-around time for imaging or lab results, charting every step along the way from the patient encounter when the test was ordered, through the referral or performance of the test, and ending with patient notification of the test results and next steps.