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YOUR CAREER

Do you have the ‘right stuff’ to be a successful medical office manager?

As the office manager of a medical practice, you have an opportunity to learn, grow, and make a valuable contribution.

“You really get the chance to be a part of a small business and to wear a lot of different hats,” says Mary Pat Whaley, co-founder and president of Manage My Practice, a medical practice consulting firm.

What’s more, because most physicians are not business people, you have an opportunity to become a true strategic partner.

Of course, first you have to know what are skills required, and then make sure you have the right stuff.

What it takes

Medical office manager is a job that requires a flexible skill set and the ability to learn on the run, says Whaley.

However, there are three primary areas of focus.

1 People

“You have to like people,” Whaley tells Medical Office Manager. The job requires working with physicians, staff, and patients.

“Physicians are quite unique. They are trained very differently than business people or managers are,” Whaley says. Meanwhile, when it comes to staff, she points out that “at most practices, you’re in the thick of it.”

And of course the manager is the one who is called on to interact with difficult patients.

“You have to be comfortable to be wherever needed,” says Whaley.

Although interacting with people throughout the day requires some juggling – for example, you have to be able to address an employee issue and then close the office door and work on payroll – it can be rewarding.

“Being a manager in that kind of situation you learn a lot about yourself,” Whaley says.

She points out that HR issues especially increase self-awareness and allow for growth as a manager. “You really are doing all the firing and hiring and discipline. That’s hard stuff to do,” she says.

2 Technology

Equally challenging for some, but also essential, is an understanding of technology.

“You should be pretty savvy technologically,” Whaley says. “The more you know technically, the better you’ll be able to serve your practice.”

Because small to midsize practices typically don’t have an IT person on staff, knowledge of systems, especially EMR software, can be very beneficial.

In addition, while a billing and coding background is helpful but not required, Whaley points out that it too can make a difference. At the very least, a medical office manager has to be able to run the right reports, interpret the reports, and make recommendations based on data.

3 Revenue cycle

Finally, Whaley recommends that a medical office manager know something about revenue cycle management to have an overall understanding of what’s going on. Smaller practices can be held ransom by payment issues, she says.

Think like a business partner

When assessing your role at the practice, it helps to better understand the physicians for whom you work.

“The majority of physicians got into medicine to care for people,” Whaley says. Although some are interested in the business aspects of the practice, few want to focus on what goes on in the workplace.

“Most physicians would rather not deal with the day-to-day drama of HR issues,” Whaley says. “Most physicians are very happy to have others take care of that.”

Still, Whaley recommends that a manager stay in close touch with the physician about important HR issues. Before firing an employee, for example, she recommends you run it by the physician.

By doing so, you build trust and show that you are interested in partnering on decisions to benefit the practice.

Toot your horn

And speaking of showing, make sure the physician is aware of your abilities and accomplishments.

“Given the constant changes—mergers, management shifts, downsizing—you simply must let people in the organization know who you are and what you are accomplishing,” says Peggy Klaus, author of “Brag: The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn without Blowing It.”

A job well done may bring its own satisfaction. But remember, only through recognition can you reap the financial rewards of your efforts.


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