Profitable Communication Systems

Profitable Communication Systems

One of the key elements in running a successful practice is the actual communication level of the practice.

This communication level is not just how people talk to each other. It is important, but there is more to it than just that.

It’s also not how many telephones, computers and email addresses the practice has. How they are used is what is important.

Think of communication as a series of systems or channels. These channels consist of not only the methods, but also the importance and reasons for interchanging ideas, information and knowledge.

These ideas, information and knowledge are the elements that keep the staff and patients in tune with what’s going on in the practice as it relates to them.

It is the quality of these communication systems that make or break a practice.

Let’s take a closer look at some of these communication systems.

The first is the methods and quality of how communications are delivered between the staff and the patients at an organizational service level. These communication channels can be in the form of verbal, policy, dispatch or memo, phone, intercom, emails, etc.

The next and maybe the most overlooked aspect of interoffice communication is the job description itself and how well each staff member knows it.

Often overlooked in job descriptions are the elements of what communications are required, necessary, and important relative to the jobs of other staff and the form these communications should take.

Check your office job descriptions and make sure that they include this vital information

It is also important to include in an office managers job description procedures and policies governing the implementing and maintaining of office communications systems.

The question is, how well and how easily can communication be initiated, relayed and received in the practice and with the patients?

It can be proven empirically that the speed, flow and quality of how well communication can be initiated and received will distinguish a well run and profitable practice from one that is struggling.

Understanding, implementing and maintaining high quality communication systems in a practice is vital to the success of the practice.

Smooth out the communication and watch your practice grow.

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Implementing Communication Systems

This article is a continuation of Profitable Communication Systems. If you haven’t done so yet, we recommend reading the first article to get a better context when reading this one.

In order to have a working, usable communication system, there are several elements that are integral in establishing and maintaining it.

The following is a brief outline of establishing a communication system in a clinic.

First and foremost, you will need an organization chart. This chart does not have to be fancy or elaborate, but it does have to accurately and concisely show who does what in the practice, and it needs to be kept current.

A correctly done organizational chart is scalable. That is to say, it grows with the practice staffing needs and doesn’t have to be redone each time a new hire is made or new position is defined.

The key elements of this chart show, at a glance, which person holds what position in the clinic, which part(s) of the clinic they are responsible for, and at least a summary of functions for each position.

Having this organizational chart is the first key ingredient to establishing a working communication system.

The “Hey, you!” system of management will not work for long as it will create too much stress and confusion and will prevent the clinic from growing.

A copy of this organization chart should be included in each job description.

In each job description, there should also be procedures and policies that explain and govern the use of the clinic communication system. These procedures and policies need to be clear and concise.

These policies should include the form that interoffice communications need to take. For example, dispatch or memo, intercom, verbal, email, etc.

Included in the job description should also be procedures and policies that govern who in the clinic needs what information relayed to them, based on their function, and what information the person themself needs in order to do their job.

Examples:

  • Who needs what info and in what form when a new patient signs up?
  • How do staff members get supplies or things that they need for their jobs?
  • Who they communicate to if they are having some difficulty with their job, etc.?

The physical aspect of a communication system is simply a series of baskets, files, etc., where dispatches and memos can be received and routed. Instructions for using this part should also be included in each job description.

Spending time and energy creating a communication and organizational system for the practice is time and energy well spent. A good, sound communication and organizational system is the foundation of every successful practice.

Questions? Ask the Editor.

If you have any questions or suggestions about this article, please feel free to submit them below. Our editors speak with professional doctors like yourself every day. They would be delighted to hear from you.

Getting Your Staff on the Same Page

 

This article is a continuation of Critical Practice Foundations. If you haven’t done so yet, we recommend reading the first article to get a better context.

The Staff Meeting

One very important activity you, as the owner, should implement is a regular staff meeting with all of your personnel. This provides regular communication with all of the staff and enables any questions to be addressed in a forum that allows for coordination.

Highlighted below are basic policies for conducting a staff meeting and what the purpose of having a staff meeting is.

Purpose: To provide a predictable time for the entire staff to come together to communicate, focus, plan and coordinate as a team. Staff meetings should be quick, upbeat and productive.

Staff Meeting Policies:

  1. Staff meetings are mandatory. They are the only time during the week when the entire staff can get together as a team to coordinate on important matters.
  2. Designate a specific day and time that staff meetings will be held. The end of the week that just ended or the first part of the new week are the best times.
  3. The office manager (or owner) would run the staff meeting.
  4. Staff meetings will run for about a half hour unless stated otherwise, in which case the staff will be notified in advance.
  5. If the staff meeting is going to be during lunch, make sure that the staff bring their lunch or has arranged for their lunch to be there on time. If the practice is going to pay for lunch, keep the cost low and the choices simple. Appoint someone to be in charge of getting the lunches there on time.
  6. All staff should come to the meeting prepared to report on their area.
  7. Topics of a serious (personal or individual) nature will not be taken up at the staff meeting. Rather, it will be addressed in a private conference with the appropriate staff members.
  8. All staff are expected to participate in the meeting, even if that simply means to politely listen whenever anyone else is talking or presenting material.
  9. Someone will be assigned to keep notes of the meeting and will submit those notes to the office manager each week.

Preparation for the Meeting:

  1. To plan the format ahead of time, the office manager will meet with the owner to determine any special topics that he/she, as the CEO, would like the office manager to cover.
  2. The office manager will have the graphs posted for the major practice areas (production, collections, new patients) and ready to present to the staff.
  3. The office manager will prepare any handouts, e.g., new policies, educational materials, etc. that are intended for staff distribution.
  4. The office manager will look over the notes from the last week’s staff meeting to determine if there is anything that needs to be followed up on from that meeting.
  5. Delegate someone to turn on the answering machine (or service), indicating the time frame that your office will be closed.
  6. The office manager should ensure that the receptionist has gotten the last of the patients checked out and give her a hand if need be (or delegate another staff member to assist her).
  7. Lunch should be ready to go.

Basic Format

  1. Referring to notes from the previous last week’s meeting, the office manager will address anything that is appropriate.
  2. The office manager will go over the graphs, stats and the plan of action based upon the stats, using this time as an opportunity to train the staff a bit more on what the graphs are all about.
    1. When going over the stats, the office manager should get the staff to participate, eliciting their input on how they think things can be improved and strengthened.
    2. Determine if the graphs that are being discussed met the goals that had been set and determine what the new goals will be.
  3. Have the staff members show their personal graphs and discuss what the appropriate actions, based upon those graphs, would be for the upcoming week.
  4. Discuss any future plans that the practice may have. Keep it brief.
  5. Go over any promotional activities that are active or in the planning stages.
  6. Make any announcements that are appropriate for all staff to be notified of.
  7. If it appears that more time will be needed to go over any particular issues, let the staff know that you will plan a longer staff meeting within the next week or two and that you will notify them of that schedule change in advance.
  8. Allow time for the doctor (both as doctor and as owner) to address the staff on any issues he/she deems pertinent for the weekly staff meeting.

 

Questions? Ask the Editor

If you have any questions or suggestions about this article, please feel free to submit them below. Our editors speak with professional doctors like yourself every day. They would be delighted to hear from you.

Critical Practice Foundations

Critical Practice Foundations

The Basics

Most doctors, when starting their practices, miss some of the basic actions that should be established prior to opening.

An owner of a healthcare practice should always, as a first step, work out the following basics: their purpose as a practice owner, the actual product of the practice, and the statistics that will measure the success of the practice.

Below are examples that you can modify and use for your own practice.

Purpose of the Practice Owner

The owner’s purpose is to establish an efficient health care practice that delivers quality service to its patients and/or clients and to have a very solvent and viable practice that provides an enjoyable place for the staff to work and a high quality-of-life for the doctor/owner.

Once the purpose has been established, it is the owner’s responsibility to set the direction and the pace for the business and to demand that the valuable final products of the organization be achieved. To do that, she/he must work out what the product of the practices are. Here are some examples of products:

  • A solvent, viable, expanding practice that delivers high quality care and service
  • Satisfied patients and clients who have received high quality care and service
  • Statistics
  • Number of active patients/clients
  • Production
  • Collections
  • Net Income
  • Solvency (the amount of cash versus the amount of bills owed)

Putting the purpose, product and statistics in place will help create a strong foundation for the expansion of your practice.

Getting your staff on board with you is another part of this process.

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Workable Collection Examples and Tips

Workable Collection Examples and Tips

This article is a continuation of The Truth About Collections. If you haven’t done so yet, we recommend reading the first article to get the full picture.

Let me explain. If at the end of your fiscal year you have enough money to pay for everything, i.e., all of your overhead is covered, such as your staff salaries, your mortgage/lease, equipment payments, taxes, etc., any lost income then becomes your own lost personal net income. For example, if you were collecting an average of 93% (5% lower than what should be your standard) with an annual gross income of $650,000.00 ($55k per month), this would equate to a loss of $32,500.00 per year. Over ten years this amounts to a staggering $325,000.00! And that is essentially straight out of your own pocket. This is the equivalent of you working one year or more out of every ten years for free. Many doctors we survey think that “a few percent here or there isn’t that significant.” I hope the above numbers disabuse you of that idea.

With the above in mind, is it now worth it for you to spend the time to train your receptionist and/or collection/finance person on collecting properly?

Here are some tips on things that you can do to increase your collection percentages.

First Contact

When a new patient/client initially calls to make an appointment, the receptionist should keep it as simple as possible for the patient to arrive. So, you want to schedule them in as soon as possible. You want their first impression to be that they feel well serviced. The new patient/client should be informed to arrive early enough to fill out paperwork, so the appointment can happen on time. Payment terms and conditions should not be discussed on the phone with them. You want to make it as easy as possible for the new patient/client to come into the office and not be put off by anything during the initial contact. When they get into the office, you can then go over your financial policies. You should ask them to bring any insurance information that they have should insurance be relevant to the potential treatment. This should include the name of the company, their policy number, what is covered, what their deductible is, etc. Do not worry about having to get into the details of this over the phone and don’t make the patient feel harassed by this. You don’t want to turn the patient off before they even arrive, or they may not arrive. You want the patient to feel friendly and comfortable about coming into the office, but at the same time, you want them to bring any relevant data that they can.

When They Arrive

As soon as the new patient/client comes through the door, they need to be greeted warmly by the receptionist. The receptionist should then supply the new arrival with the necessary forms to fill out. Included should be a form covering your specific payment requirements indicating that payment is due at the time of treatment and/or your insurance agreements and arrangements. If insurance is involved, the form should include a place to provide what insurance they have, how much is covered, what the deductible is and, most importantly, that they will be expected to pay the copay, deductible or anything not covered by insurance at the time of treatment. They should also be told that, unless otherwise agreed upon, you don’t offer billing but will gladly accept cash and most major credit cards. Let them know if you offer financing through companies such as Care Credit, and if they feel that they will require such financial assistance, make sure they meet right away with the person in your office who handles these matters. If you don’t take care of it on the spot, you are likely to be left with a collection problem on this account. Make sure that you require their signature on this form that signifies that they have read, understood and will comply with the financial policy of your office

Once They Have Received Treatment

Validate your patient/client for the good decision that they made to confront and handle the problem that they came to you with. Let them know that they did the right thing and that the investment they made was a good one. Follow up the first treatment with a quality control call, ideally from the doctor, to make sure all went well.

As treatment continues, make sure that everyone in the office continues to reinforce the good decision the patient/client made, and make the patient/client feel welcome in the office.

If you do these things, you will see a turnaround in your collection percentages, and you will see your net income go up.

Questions? Ask the Editor

If you have any questions or suggestions about this article, please feel free to submit them below. Our editors speak with professional Dr’s like yourself every day. They would be delighted to hear from you.

The Truth About Collections

The Truth About Collections

Accounts receivable and collection percentages are a subject that we hear about frequently. Every doctor has a different idea about what a good collection percentage is as well as how to collect money for services rendered.

For example, I have talked to many doctors that feel obligated to let patients/clients go without paying. They feel guilty about trying to collect from a patient/client if they feel that that person is in a financial hardship.

While this is quite altruistic, what these doctors must also understand is that they can’t continue to provide help to their patients/clients if they can’t afford to keep the doors of their practice open. If you provide a service, you should be compensated for it. Period. Unless you go into a situation knowing in advance that it is going to be a charity case – and there is certainly room for that in any practice, as long as it is planned for – you should insist on being paid for rendering that service.

Of course, this is great in theory, but being able to actually collect all monies owed is another story and requires good group coordination and effort. If you and your staff are trained on how to do this from initial contact through patient discharge, including having the proper policies in place with your staff and patients/clients, your chances of collecting at the time of treatment go up exponentially. We believe that you should be collecting 98% or better of what you are producing, minus insurance adjustments. If you are collecting less than 98%, you are losing net income out of your own pocket.

Instantly receive Part II of this article, Workable Collection Examples and Tips. Simply fill out the form to the right Go to the form

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Staff Management Distress Solutions

Staff Management Distress Solutions

I’m sure many of our readers are very familiar with The Practice Solution Magazine’s phone surveys. Our team of surveyors speak with doctors all over the country, 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. Given the busyness of your schedules, we definitely appreciate it when you take the time to speak with our team. The information that you provide enables us to more closely concentrate on articles of interest to you and your staff.

With that in mind, we have found from our recent surveys that one of the most distressing areas for most doctors is the managing, hiring and controlling of staff. Every person is different, and human interaction within small practices oftentimes can be nerve-racking, volatile and frustrating. You have probably found that not everyone thinks like you do, cares as much about your practice as you do, or is as willing to work extra hours as you do.

We definitely recognize the frustration that can occur with losing an employee whom you have just invested thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours training. One of the most important things that you can do to bolster your practice is to ensure that all of your staff are fully trained and operating on the same page. The optimum team is one that knows what their specific duties are; how to do those functions without any difficulty or emotional issues in other words, strictly professional; and what the other staff are should be doing.

When staff are competent, work is more efficient, morale is higher and the doctor can just be the doctor instead of the referee or babysitter.

In this issue of The Practice Solution Magazine, we provide articles addressing employee issues like staff meetings, setting production targets, and what your responsibility is as the leader for your staff. If you implement the suggestions within these articles, you may find some of your frustrations disappearing, and you may get even more support from your front desk because they will have a better understanding of what you need as the practice owner, which will enable them to become more competent and more professional.

Request Part II Instantly: Suggestions on Staff Correction

Suggestions on Staff Correction

It would be nice if employees never made any mistakes and always did a perfect job. But, we are all human, and mistakes and on-the-job errors are part and parcel of running a practice. That raises the question, what do you do when your staff err and how do you correct them? Here are some suggestions on staff correction.

As part of this overall process you must have written job descriptions and office policies that clearly delineate what tasks a person is responsible for on their job and the overall working guidelines for the office. The reason these are so important is that you use them as part of your correction procedure. Unfortunately, very few practice owners have proper job descriptions and office policies in place.

For starters, if you are in need of correcting a staff member, make sure you know of any specific disciplinary policies that you have issued so that your actions are consistent with these. For example, if your policy states that theft is an automatic discharge, you would not work up the disciplinary gradients and only reprimand someone caught stealing.

The first level of addressing correction is normally directing the staff member’s attention to whatever policy he/she violated, what was not done or what should have been done, all of which is delineated in their job description or in your written policies. Have the staff member reread the policy and/or job description. Ensure that they understand it and clear up any confusions or misunderstandings. This is usually enough to handle the first offense.

On the second offense the office manager or practice owner should review the situation with the staff member and have them sign a copy of the policy or procedure that covers what was violated as an attestation that he/she understands and agrees to the policy and/or job description. We then recommend for you to put a copy of the signed document in the personnel folder of the staff member and give a copy to the staff member to put in their staff binder. One can consider that this constitutes a warning.

On the third offense, we recommend that you do the following: give the employee a written warning, a copy of which goes in their personnel file. Sit down and discuss this situation with them; go over the fact that they’ve been corrected on this twice before; and tell them that, per office policy, continual violations could result in a suspension or dismissal.

Practice owners normally find that this type of action on a third offense either puts a stop to the problem or points out clearly that they have a real problem staff member on their hands and that proper actions, including excellent documentation, will need to be taken in order to suspend or dismiss the staff member for future violations.

What do you do with a staff member that you have corrected three times and who messes up again? You’ve already given them a written warning, discussed that continued violations could result in suspension or dismissal, but you still find them doing it again.

At this point you should check their production record (although you should have done that already as part of correcting earlier violations). Hopefully you have a simple statistical method to keep track of key production metrics for each staff member and the office as a whole so that you can monitor their productivity. If the person is an excellent producer (which is unlikely given that they keep messing up), you might consider the next step to be a suspension without pay for a certain number of days. If the person has a poor production record, dismissal may be in order.

Again, the importance of having proper office policies and job descriptions in place in order to properly deal with staff cannot be overemphasized. You can easily put yourself in a legal quagmire if you attempt to discipline staff without these in place.

We also strongly recommend that you check with a good employment attorney when you are looking at dismissing any problem employee to insure that all of your legal bases are covered.