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5 efficiency-draining traps to avoid in your practice

By Karen Mattocks, Vice President of Business Development at RxVantage  bio

It is a practice manager’s worst nightmare. You arrive at work one morning and suddenly realize you no longer have a grip on operational efficiency. Patient wait times are at an all-time high, physicians continue to complain about the electronic health record (EHR), unbilled claims pile up daily, and your net revenue is continually lower than anticipated. It may seem like you lost this grip overnight, but you know it was probably months—or even years—in the making. The good news is that you can hit the ‘reset button’ on efficiency and regain control by simply avoiding the five common efficiency-draining traps described below.

1. Paper-based intakes. In an efficiency-driven healthcare environment, a paper intake process is a huge source of frustration for practice managers and patients alike. It takes time for patients to fill out paper forms, and it also takes time for staff to enter data manually into the EHR and subsequently shred paper-based protected health information.

To increase efficiency, practices can transition to a mobile intake process, starting with a hybrid approach and ultimately moving to a completely paperless process that patients can complete on their own using any type of mobile device. Some EHRs provide this mobile intake functionality natively while others may require a third-party add-on system. Interestingly, a mobile intake process not only save practices time, but it’s also a big patient satisfier. Eighty percent of consumers want the ability to check in for a provider visit on their own secure mobile device, according to The Trends in Healthcare Payments Eighth Annual Report: 2017 by Instamed.

2. Manual life sciences rep scheduling. Life science reps play a critical role in today’s practices. Most importantly, they provide important education about new FDA approvals on new drugs, medical devices, and techniques. They also provide information about new drug regimens and protocols, product labeling, product indications, and clinical trials. Life science sales reps are the primary source of product information for nearly half of all U.S. physicians, according to the ePharma Physician® 2017 study by DRG Digital’s Manhattan Research. They also arm practices with essential samples and patient educational materials. Many of these reps are physicians and nurses who are able to engage in peer-to-peer conversations with clinical staff. Others provide information about coding and billing as well as relevant patient assistance programs.

However, practice managers and their staff often spend several hours each week responding to rep requests for meetings, checking calendars, booking and rescheduling meetings, and confirming appointments. Many reps show up unannounced, distracting staff from patient care and causing patient flow bottlenecks.

To increase efficiency, practices can use free web-based technology to automate the scheduling. The technology allows practices to designate specifically when and how often reps can visit. Then reps simply log onto the platform and self-schedule appointments. Reps can also view all of the information they need about the practice (e.g., number of physicians and staff, food preferences if it is allowed, check-in process, and more) without having to call staff and tie up phone lines. Automated rep scheduling has consistently saved practices hundreds of administrative staff hours annually. This is time that staff can reinvest into value added tasks. Front desk staff are often overwhelmed, and a mobile intake process and automated rep scheduling can reduce their workload.

3. Widening gap between front and back office staff. Lack of communication between front and back office staff can cause a significant drain on operational efficiencies. Proactively addressing this gap is paramount.

One strategy is to set aside 10 minutes each morning before the practice opens to bring everyone together and briefly discuss the workday ahead. For example, talk about the number of patients on the schedule, whether any patients will need extra time with the physician, and any potential challenges that must be addressed (e.g., combatting EHR downtime due to an anticipated upgrade).

These meetings are a great opportunity for staff to collaborate. For example, back-office staff can identify patients who have an outstanding balance or whose healthcare coverage has lapsed. Then, front-office staff can collect the balance and update insurance information upon check-in. Back-office staff can also flag cases that could potentially trigger a MIPS quality measure. Then, front-office staff can ask patients to complete assessments and questionnaires (e.g., asthma assessments, depression screenings, or osteoarthritis pain and function assessments) while they wait to see the physician. This type of collaboration cuts down on rework and helps support overall efficiency and revenue integrity.

4. Unmonitored claim denials. Not having a clear and consistent denial management strategy can put a significant strain on staff productivity. If practices don’t know why claims are denied (i.e., the root cause of the denial), they not only miss out on revenue, but they also cause unnecessary rework related to resubmissions and appeals. To increase efficiency, take these steps:

  • Look at the remark code for every denial.
  • Correct the error, and resubmit each claim immediately.
  • Address the root cause of each type of denial. For example, institute a practice-wide policy to verify insurance before rendering services to prevent denials due to lack of coverage.

5. Underutilized EHR/practice management system. One of the biggest mistakes practices make when implementing an EHR/practice management system is that they do not use all of its time-saving features. Some examples include the following:

  • Automated preventive maintenance reminders. Many EHRs provide practices with the ability to send automated messages directly to patients prompting them to set up appointments for mammograms, annual checkups, and more through the portal. This prevents staff from having to send reminders manually (via mail), and it also helps mitigate care gaps.
  • Copy and paste functionality. When used correctly (i.e., by validating that the copied information is appropriate and relevant), this functionality can save physicians significant time that, in turn, increases patient flow.
  • Disease-specific templates. Physicians can use these templates to facilitate documentation expediency.
  • Patient portals. Engaging patients with portal technology can potentially reduce the volume of phone calls to the practice because patients are usually able to access lab results, schedule appointments, pay bills, and requests refills online. Allowing this type of self-service frees up staff for other critical tasks.
  • Electronic funds transfer (EFT). Electronic transactions with payers can save providers more than $15 and 40 minutes for each claim, according to the 2017 CAQH Index Report.

Getting caught in one or more of these traps can truly drain staff time and have a trickle-down effect on patient care. Practices that take the time to address these five potential traps will notice an immediate effect on operational efficiencies.

Karen Mattocks is Vice President of Business Development at RxVantage, a free, cloud-based solution that connects physicians and medical staff members with life science reps who have the most relevant information, enabling practices to continue receiving in-person education with minimal time and effort. Karen brings 35 years of business development, sales, and marketing experience from large corporations and startup companies in the medical field. She holds a Master’s Degree in Business Administration from the University of Massachusetts Isenberg School of Management and a Master’s Degree in Chemistry from Wesleyan University in Connecticut.

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