Improving Physician Practice Efficiency

When it comes to their health, the general public tends to put a great deal of trust in their local hospitals, doctors, surgeons, and medical staff. Why shouldn’t they? After all, they are highly educated, well-trained professionals that have gone through many years of schooling and hands-on experience to hone their unique set of skills. Hospitals and health systems worldwide are saving more lives than it was ever thought possible. Miracles are happening every day. This can partly be attributed to the state-of-the-art equipment and clinical furnishings currently available, but it is mostly the result of the outstanding teams of medical practitioners who diagnose, plan treatment, and coordinate continued care that makes improved health a reality.

The downside to these positive outcomes and exceptional patient experiences is that this high-quality care comes at an expensive price. Of course, the result is the primary focus of any healthcare encounter, but the cost needs to be at the forefront as well. With more than half of a hospital’s operating expense tied back to labor, one of the very best ways to reduce costs and improve efficiency is by staffing to volume. Matching the appropriate resources with patient demand based on time of day/day of week trends is critical to streamlining processes and minimizing unnecessary expense. Across the industry, many healthcare organizations have already implemented productivity and benchmarking practices into the routine operations of their primary facilities. The biggest challenge remains with adopting those same performance improvement tactics in hospital-owned physician practices which tend to struggle the most with reaching and sustaining profitability.

Established provider clinics tend to bring inefficient staffing practices and care models with them when acquired by a hospital or health system. While self-employed physicians should be more focused on maximizing profits, individually owned and operated practices lack the extended resources available with a network affiliation and therefore build in more support staff hours to compensate. It is critical that a productivity study is completed for all provider entities to identify opportunities to create the right staffing mix, align staffing with volume patterns, and appropriately utilize/share available resources. This comprehensive study should include a review of visits and revenue in addition to RVU data, analyze the downstream impact of clinic referrals within the health system, and highlight possible improvements on a service-line basis. Performance targets should be determined based on historical and comparative data and be designed to monitor efficiency on both the provider and support staff levels. Furthermore, these goals should link to the financial budgets of each clinic as well as to the overall budget of the hospital to promote a strong bottom line.

Another useful method of ensuring practice efficiency is conducting performance reviews for the physicians and their team members. Provider compensation is often tied back to their productivity and the practice’s profitability. Whether they are done annually, bi-annually, or quarterly, these reviews are an excellent way to encourage providers to meet goals and continually enhance the patient experience. While performance reviews can often be seen as a negative or biased experience, if they are constructed in a way that rewards one’s efforts and contributions, they can have a positive impact on operations.

Physicians are a vital component to the health of their patients and to the practices and health systems they serve. Partnering with providers and their staff to better the way that clinics are staffed and operated is just another way that the cost of care can be reduced without compromising quality.

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