Could Adding Staff Members Improve Your Practice?

Strategic new hires could sharpen your competitive edge

Every medical practice is different, though they typically have commonalities. Naturally, there’s almost always a physician involved. There are also typically nurses, as well as front- and back-office staff.

But many of today’s practices are adding new positions to their organizational charts to better serve patients and sharpen their competitive edges. Assuming you have a valid need for these hires, as well as the payroll and benefits capacity to compensate everyone fairly, this might be a good strategic move for your practice.

Boosting efficiency

There are several roles that could make your practice more efficient. One idea is to create a call center where trained staff handle general incoming and outgoing calls using prewritten scripts. By taking on tasks such as appointment scheduling and appointment reminders, a call center allows front office staff to better interact with patients in person while still handling more complex phone calls as necessary.

Some practices have staff members who take on a role like that of a host or hostess in a restaurant. This person immediately greets patients when they arrive and escorts them to the exam room. He or she should avoid answering any medically related questions but can offer patients calm reassurance of quality care. The “host/hostess” also usually updates the tracking board or system that indicates which patients are in which exam rooms.

Quality and compliance

It may be a good idea to create a “quality assurance director” to track metrics on problems and mistakes in the practice and develop processes to prevent missteps or recognize them earlier. For example, say the practice is hit with an unusually high influx of flu cases and learns that many patients never received their shots. This person could develop a protocol for tracking administration of flu shots and remind physicians to urge patients to get their annual influenza vaccinations.

Another idea is to add a risk and compliance officer, either by creating a practice position or engaging an external consultant. This individual would address issues related to billing, reimbursement and HIPAA compliance. They could also oversee and ensure compliance with Occupational Safety and Health Administration requirements, Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments of 1998 regulations and other health care regulatory areas — such as the self-referral Stark law and antikickback regulations.

Easing the burden on physicians

Many practices are adding nurse practitioners or physician assistants to examine, diagnose and treat patients, including prescribing medication. Doing so can free up physicians to focus on more difficult, complex cases and keep up with the latest research.

When hiring either a nurse practitioner or physician assistant, be sure to clarify how much and what type of supervision you or another physician will be providing. Also establish which diagnoses should be immediately referred to the supervising physician.

In addition, some practices — especially larger ones — are integrating pharmacists and pharmacy techs into their operations. This staff person not only dispenses medications, but also is involved in dosage management, prior authorization and other aspects of prescriptions.

Finally, as electronic health records (EHRs) have increasingly become part of medical practice, complaints have arisen that physicians appear more interested in their computer screens than their patients. Some physicians are sympathetic to these concerns — they find the need to update EHRs during patient visits distracting and disruptive to providing quality care. One solution is to hire medical scribes who accompany the physician during the patient visit and document everything that occurs. Of course, this needs to be balanced against the possibility that having an additional person in the room may make your patient uncomfortable.

It’s complicated

Health care is an increasingly complicated business with many pressures. These include seeing more patients in a shorter period, increasing efficiency through advanced technology and dealing with an intense regulatory environment. Having a more well-rounded and skilled workforce may help you grapple with these challenges.

Bear in mind, however, that adding staff will cause you to incur some hiring costs, as well as higher payroll and benefits expenses after adding the new employees. So, it’s not a move to undertake without careful research and discussion with your physician partners and professional advisors.

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