American College of Physicians: Internal Medicine — Doctors for Adults ®

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Three free tools to help you build a better practice

From the March 2001 ACP-ASIM Observer, copyright 2001 by the American College of Physicians-American Society of Internal Medicine.

By Bryan Walpert

Increasing competition. Tighter regulation. Stagnant reimbursements. These are some of the reasons time-pressed physicians everywhere feel compelled to find new sources of revenue, improve efficiency and boost patient satisfaction.

The College just made practice management a little easier.

After updating three easy-to-use practice management tools, the College is now giving them away free to members. The Practice Management Center (PMC), formerly the Center for a Competitive Advantage, has put the tools on the Web (www.acponline.org/pmc/) for easy download.

The Practice Management Check-Up, which formerly cost members $149, can help you cut costs or boost revenue by comparing your numbers to industry benchmarks. The Patient Satisfaction Check-Up, which used to cost $150 for members, analyzes what patients think of all aspects of your practice, from check-in to check-out. And the Office Laboratory Check-Up, formerly $99 for members, can help you determine which tests you should offer in-house and which you should send out to reference labs.

Interested? Here’s some information about each product:

Practice Management Check-Up.Need to boost your bottom line? This tool will compare your practice to general internal medicine benchmark measures in 18 categories that cover income, collections, costs, staffing ratios and other key figures. The PMC developed the benchmarks with The Health Care Group, a consulting firm in Plymouth Meeting, Pa.

To use the tool, you simply supply data about your revenue, costs and other aspects of your practice and return the tool to the PMC via the Internet. Within a week or so, you’ll receive a side-by-side comparison showing how your practice measures up to each benchmark.

The tool uses branch logic to help you interpret results. For example, if your net income is below the benchmark, it suggests you examine gross income and staff expenses. If staff expenses are high relative to benchmarks, it will suggest examining staff ratios.

“You scan through the different indicators until you can identify which one is the problem” explained Carl B. Cunningham, Director of the PMC. “In most cases, you can quickly zero in on your practice’s weaknesses, or you can find opportunities to enhance your practice’s strengths.”

Patient Satisfaction Check-Up. Why do you need to pay attention to patient satisfaction? “The most unhappy patients won’t tell you they are dissatisfied,” Mr. Cunningham said. “You’ll simply never see them again.”

This tool measures how patients perceive a variety of access and personal interaction issues, from the ease of getting through to your practice on the phone to the responsiveness of your staff. It also asks patients whether the practice’s physicians provide thorough treatment and give patients enough information about their health conditions, listen well and generally understand patient problems.

The College offers two options for administering the tool. The first is available to members only and is entirely free of charge. Members download and distribute a patient satisfaction survey, collect results and enter them into a spreadsheet, then e-mail the information to the PMC. Within a week, you’ll receive a patient satisfaction report comparing the responses of each physician’s patients to those of all other physicians who have used the Patient Satisfaction Check-Up. The report will also compare each physician’s results to the results of the practice as a whole.

The second option saves labor at your end and is available to both members and nonmembers. You rent an electronic “survey device” that can survey the patients of up to five physicians. After the survey is completed, you simply send the device back to the PMC, your results are automatically extracted and reports are prepared. (Members pay $115 to rent the box for 30 days.)

Office Laboratory Check-Up. Are you making enough of a profit on your lab to keep it? Should you consider adding lab services? Do you know enough about your costs to negotiate the best price with a managed care company for in-house lab work?

The PMC developed a spreadsheet with Venture Resources, a laboratory consulting firm in Chicago, to answer exactly those questions. All you need to do is enter the costs of staffing, reagent and equipment, along with your test fee schedule.

Mr. Cunningham explained that even if you are still considering starting a lab, the software allows you to play “what-if games,” using data you’ve collected or, in many cases, default data that the tool provides. He said it answers questions like: "If you were to send this test to a reference lab rather than do it internally, would it improve or worsen your profit margin for lab service as a whole?” and “If you were to take back three high-volume tests from the reference lab, how would that improve your profit margin?”

And labs often can do just that. “A moderately complex lab is probably going to generate $10,000 to $20,000 per physician in net revenue,” Mr. Cunningham said. “That adds up if you have several physicians.”

Bryan Walpert is a freelance writer in Denver.

For more information about the College’s three check-up products, go to www.acponline.org/journals/news/mar01 /checkuplinks.htm.

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