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

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How does ACP-ASIM help practicing internists?

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From the June ACP-ASIM Observer, copyright 2002 by the American College of Physicians-American Society of Internal Medicine.

By Sara Walker, MACP

In these days of increasing financial constraints, members wonder what they can expect to get in return for belonging to ACP-ASIM. I often hear them ask point-blank, "What is the College doing for practicing internists?"

In fact, ACP-ASIM provides a wealth of practical services for members that would cost a fortune in the private sector. Take, for example, the Practice Management Center (PMC), which offers members free advisory services and management tools.

Located in the College's Washington office, the PMC helps internists deal with vital issues including practice ownership and operations, coding and payment, computer tools for physicians and government regulations. Here is an overview of some of those services.

Starting a practice

The PMC can be a godsend if you are setting up a practice for the first time. I recently spoke with a young internist who was able to launch a successful solo practice through lots of hard work and guidance from the PMC.

When Emilia V. Thomas, FACP, left her position as an in-house physician to start a general internal medicine practice in Corsicana, Texas, she realized that she had never been trained in the business aspects of medicine. Because she was starting from scratch, she had no experience hiring staff, setting fees or complying with dozens of regulations. She had never heard of many of the rules that govern medical practice.

"My professors taught me to practice good medicine," she explained, "not how to rent office space or negotiate a contract."

Dr. Thomas started by calling several practice consultants, but she was shocked by their estimated fees. The lowest quote she received was $6,000.

Then an article in ACP-ASIM Observer that described the Practice Management Center caught her eye. Dr. Thomas was soon on the telephone requesting the information she needed. Practice Management Associates Margo Williams and Scott Jauch answered her questions without charge and guided her to a number of College publications designed for internists starting a practice. All of these resources were free because Dr. Thomas is a College member.

Dr. Thomas said the PMC information she found most useful helped her hire employees, set up a billing system, choose a computer and comply with OSHA regulations. "Based on my own research and advice from Margo and Scott," she said, "I knew what to tell my attorney to do, and I was able to play an active role in dealing with third-party payers."

Practice management

After a year, Dr. Thomas wanted to compare her practice's performance to key benchmarks for general internal medicine. She once again turned to the PMC, which provided a self-assessment benchmarking tool, "Practice Management Check Up" without charge.

The Practice Management Check Up tool is designed to check a practice's overall business performance and can be easily applied to a small practice. It assesses relative strengths and weaknesses and provides an analytical tool to help plan improvements.

The PMC offers members other free management tools, such as the "Patient Satisfaction Check Up" and the "Office Laboratory Check Up".

When she encounters new questions about running her practice, she can always access the 50 guides and other free resources for College members that are posted on the PMC's Web site.

If she needs even more specific help, the PMC site provides "advice" and "help line" links that allow members to send individual questions about practice management issues directly to PMC staff via e-mail. And if she needs more detailed, personal guidance on practice management, she knows she can pick up the phone and call a PMC specialist at 800-338-2746, option 6.

HIPAA information

Dr. Thomas also needs to keep abreast of regulatory changes, and she said that the PMC makes it easy for her to keep up to date. As deadlines for implementing rules under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) draw near, for example, Dr. Thomas can rely on the PMC for help.

Two comprehensive manuals, the "HIPAA Electronic Transactions Manual" and the "HIPAA Privacy Manual," offer guidance in complying with these sweeping regulations. The manuals are available online at www.acponline.org/pmc/regulatory.htm and are free for members. A third manual covering the HIPAA security rules will be available once the regulations are finalized.

What's New

Because the practice of medicine changes so rapidly, the PMC Web site offers a "What's New" feature that is updated continually. This part of the site currently contains 12 new or updated publications that range from "Starting a Practice" to "Medicare Charges for 2002."

CD-ROM Library

Finally, for members whose Internet access is a constraint, the PMC has developed a new CD-ROM, "Practice Management Library for Internists—Guides, Tools and Resources," that includes all 50 of the PMC's practical guides and tools. The discs were snapped up at Annual Session in Philadelphia, and more copies will be available early this month. To order a copy, call ACP-ASIM Customer Service at 800-523-1546, ext. 2600 (9 a.m. to 5 p.m. EDT). The disc is free for ACP-ASIM members, but there is a nominal charge for shipping and handling.

Will Dr. Thomas continue to use PMC resources? Most definitely.

"Their service was outstanding," she said. "You send an e-mail or leave a voice message, and they quickly respond with the answer. They have helped me in every aspect of my practice, and their advice was truly comprehensive."

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