The term practice management covers a vast, often difficult-to-navigate landscape. All gynecology practices have an eye trained on their path to efficiency and productivity, but regulatory issues often fall by the wayside. And why wouldn't they? Budgeting and increasing revenues consume a great deal of time and energy. Regulatory compliance is multifaceted and applies to aspects of patient care that physicians sometimes overlook.
Just as a driver would not set out on a cross-country road trip without making sure his or her car was in good condition, a medical practice cannot trust that things will simply work out if appropriate protocols have not been put in place. Below are five unavoidable practice management challenges to consider along your journey to success.
1. Overhead Costs
A gynecology practice's overhead refers to anything that must be paid on a monthly or annual basis. This can include property leases, insurance premiums, staff salaries, administrative costs and medical equipment such as ultrasound machines. Tracking revenue against expenses can be tricky, especially since revenue naturally cycles and unexpected expenses often come out of nowhere. Some practitioners have seen their overhead costs approach or even exceed 50 percent. The key to reducing overhead is to look at every expense and determine where adjustments can be made. Saving money does not have to be the same thing as cutting corners.
While staffing certainly counts as an overhead cost, proper management of staff is tantamount to a successful gynecology practice. While it may be cheaper to hire less experienced staff, these employees can sometimes cost a business more money in the long run. Staff members need proper training as well as cross-training for when a crucial person is out sick or on vacation. Unhappy front desk employees can drive customers away, and unskilled billers or schedulers can cost patients time and money, sending them down the street to the nearest competitor.
3. Standardized Protocols
An efficient medical practice has a protocol for everything. The receptionist knows how to address patients over the phone, for example, and the ultrasonographer knows what information from patient procedures must be documented in the medical record. Physicians are familiar with using standard-of-care protocols, but they need to communicate the operating protocols to the staff. Standardized protocols take the guesswork out of business and streamline procedures.
4. Regulatory Compliance Via Computer Systems and Software
Electronic systems, including computers, medical equipment and electronic health records, are the backbone of a successful medical practice. Systems that do not speak to each other create inefficiencies and duplication of efforts, not to mention overlooked checkpoints. If a record is mismanaged or lost, it may become an unbillable expense, and tests may need to be repeated.
Whenever possible, point-of-care systems should communicate with back-office systems and make medical records, scans and visit notes more easily accessible for both the physician and the biller. There are software systems, such as ViewPoint or Tricefy, made specifically for managing ultrasound images alongside the patient's data and results. Integrating this technology into a gynecology practice could improve workflow and ease compliance concerns.
Additionally, a procedure should be billed with an appropriate diagnosis code, and the medical record must be complete to withstand billing scrutiny or audit. Systems that are upgradeable enable practices to easily transition when changes to billing requirements occur.
5. HIPAA Compliance
The U.S. Government's Office of Civil Rights oversees the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) and sets privacy standards that patients can expect from their healthcare providers. According to the law, patient information can only be used for treatment, payment and operations. Violations could result in monetary penalties. Covered entities are required to provide patients with a copy of their privacy notice and obtain a signature when possible. Someone within the medical practice should be well-versed in HIPAA's applicability to the business, but all staff members should be trained to avoid unnecessary breaches of privacy.
While these are not the only concerns of private practice owners, these five challenges of practice management should get clinicians thinking about how to navigate the daily life of private practice. Thoughtful planning always makes for a more successful road trip, and knowing where the pitfalls are will keep a business on course and on budget.