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MANAGING THE OFFICE

7 free or low-cost ways to increase practice efficiency

By Jeremy Gilman bio

It is a question practice managers ask themselves daily: ‘How can I accomplish more tasks using the same—or even fewer—resources?’ Times are tough. For many providers, increased access to healthcare care under the Affordable Care Act has translated to increased patient volume, and not every practice is equipped to handle the demands. Couple this with ever-changing regulations, stringent documentation requirements, burdensome prior authorization requests, and increased payer scrutiny, and practice managers have a potential recipe for disaster on their hands. Unless, of course, they do something about it.

The good news is that “doing something about it” doesn’t necessarily mean putting in dozens of extra hours every week or doling out thousands of dollars to hire workflow consultants or purchase expensive technology. Ultimately, it is about working smarter—not necessarily harder or longer. Here are seven ways in which practices can increase efficiency without breaking the bank in the process.

  1. Promote patient self-service.

Most of today’s practices use an electronic health record (EHR) that includes a patient portal. To increase efficiency, consider activating the portal and allowing patients to schedule non-urgent appointments, request medication refills, make payments, view educational materials, access lab results, and more. Self-service features in the portal not only help practices boost efficiency, but they also cater to patient preferences for ease of access.

  1. Automate tasks, when possible.

For example, the EHR can help practices automate preventive health reminders such as appointments for annual mammograms, colonoscopies, or physicals. These reminders not only mitigate potential care gaps, but they also prevent staff from having to reach out to patients directly.

Many systems also allow practices to send automated appointment reminders via text, phone call, or email based on a patient’s preferred method of communication. If practices aren’t taking advantage of this feature, they should be. Automated appointment reminders not only save staff time, but they also reduce no-shows and they give patients an opportunity to call and reschedule in a timely manner so practices can offer that appointment slot to another individual.

Another aspect of automation to consider is automated scheduling of industry reps who provide valuable education on new drugs, products, and services. Many practice managers and their staff often spend several hours each week manually checking calendars, booking meetings, and confirming appointments. To increase efficiency, practices can use free web-based technology to automate the scheduling. The technology allows practices to designate when and how often reps can visit. 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.

  1. Monitor claim denials.

Practices that don’t monitor their denials are begging for productivity problems. When practices don’t know why payers deny claims, they continue to make the same mistakes, causing unnecessary rework for staff. To monitor denials, 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.
  1. Provide staff training.

A little training can go a long way in terms of increasing efficiency and reducing rework. For example, if the practice doesn’t have a certified coder, consider paying for the individual who currently performs the coding to become certified. A certified coder can reduce denials, improve cash flow, audit documentation, educate physicians on ICD-10-CM/PCS coding changes, and help physicians capture hierarchical condition categories that translate to higher reimbursement under value-based payment models.

Likewise, consider providing additional training for your front-office staff so they can become patient educators. Training topics could include how to help patients sign up for the portal, how to interpret their healthcare bill from the practice, and even how to qualify for patient assistance programs that offset the cost of medications. When staff are well-equipped to educate patients at the point-of-service, less follow-up will be necessary after the appointment.

  1. Maximize the use of non-physician practitioners (NPP).

To increase efficiency (and revenue), NPPs should always work at the top of their licensure, meaning they must see and treat patients—not answer phones or book appointments. When billing NPP services directly (i.e., under the NPP’s own provider number), practices receive a portion of the physician’s fee schedule amount for that service. When billing NPP services under a physician’s supervision, the practice receives the entire fee schedule amount. To leverage NPPs and increase efficiency, practices should create NPP-specific schedules for booking patient appointments. Another strategy is to specify that NPPs will see all post-op patients because these services are bundled into the payment for the procedure. This allows physicians to focus on services that generate separate/additional revenue.

  1. Focus on process improvement.

Process improvement is at the heart of efficiency, and to be successful, practices must be willing to take a deep dive into their workflows. Pick one process at a time. Interview staff members who contribute to that process, and ask them to detail the specific steps that are required. Look for unnecessary steps or steps that may be missing, both of which cause additional work. Then, modify the process to increase efficiency.

  1. Promote a culture of open communication.

Begin each day with a team huddle to address potential concerns and challenges. In general, practice managers should try to create an open environment in which everyone feels supported and valued. Make a concerted effort to address what author Patrick Lencioni refers to as the “five dysfunctions of a team.” These include the following:

  • Inattention to results (i.e., there’s a focus on individual goals rather than group success)
  • Avoidance of accountability (i.e., there’s undue burden placed on those who are able and willing to do the most)
  • Lack of commitment (i.e., there’s ambiguity regarding direction and priorities that breeds lack of confidence and fear of failure)
  • Fear of conflict (i.e., some members’ opinions are bypassed or ignored to avoid controversy)
  • Absence of trust (i.e., members don’t trust that others will help or provide support, and they don’t give one another the benefit of the doubt)

Conclusion: Practice managers that tackle these challenges head-on will automatically see improvements in practice efficiency and staff productivity. Improving practice efficiency doesn’t need to be the elephant in the room. It doesn’t need to be the topic that everyone avoids or dreads discussing. With a little thought and effort, real results are well within reach.


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