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

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Need practice management help? Try new ACP newsgroup

A new online discussion forum gives internists in small groups a place to share their solutions to everyday problems

From the March ACP Observer, copyright © 2004 by the American College of Physicians.

By Jackie Blaser

If you're an internist practicing in a small group who could use a little help managing your practice, ACP has a new free service for you.

Earlier this month, the College's Practice Management Center (PMC) launched a newsgroup that will explore exactly the types of practice issues small groups encounter. The latest addition to the ACP Online newsgroups section gives members in small practices a place to discuss everything from hiring and firing employees to handling difficult payers.

The goal of the Small Practice Newsgroup is to help internists draw on each other's experience to find solutions to a wide range of practice issues, from reimbursement and collections to right-sizing staff.

Small group practices need this type of resource, College officials say, because they don't necessarily face the same issues as larger groups. "Small groups face very different problems, issues and management styles than large institutions do," said Carl Cunningham, Director of the PMC.

Even on an issue as basic as reimbursement, Mr. Cunningham said, there are big differences based on group size. While large and small groups both provide the same services and must bill payers, the similarities between large and small groups often end there.

"There is a radical difference in the way that the billing and collection work is handled," Mr. Cunningham said. "In small groups, it may be done by the wife of the solo practitioner—who will treat the money like her family income, which influences the aggressiveness of those collections efforts."

While some small practices have a billing department staffed by one or two clerks, he added, most don't have an administrator with an MBA running the practice. Many small practices have an office manager who may not have a college degree or any formal business training.

Noting that about 60% of ACP members in private practice work in groups of less than six physicians, Margo Williams-the PMC associate who will be coordinating the small practice program-said the newsgroup can serve as an important source of help.

"We wanted to give them a chance to share ideas, because they and their office managers tend to be very good at solving nitty-gritty problems," she explained. "We wanted a place where they could get together and share those ideas."

To help jump-start the dialogue, the newsgroup will feature a different featured guest each month. The featured guest will start by presenting a brief case study or topic on the newsgroup. That person will then invite ACP members to ask questions or start a discussion on the topic.

The first featured guest is Steven D. Atwood, FACP. Dr. Atwood, a solo practitioner in Springfield, Mo., will talk about ways to manage expenses and revenues in a small practice.

Dr. Atwood is expected to cover such topics as how to charge for no-shows, when to use a billing clearinghouse, strategies to reduce or eliminate transcription costs, and time-savers for internists.

Future topics will include hiring employees, administrative and retainer fees, how to pay for part-time physicians, evaluating payers, and accounts receivable management. Other topics are expected to arise during newsgroup discussions.

Dr. Atwood and Ms. Williams are also presenting a course at Annual Session called "Small Practice Management: Thriving in the 21st Century" on Saturday, April 24, from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. The course will be an opportunity for physicians who have participated in the newsgroup, as well as others, to meet face-to-face and discuss other ways they can support each other.

The Small Practice Newsgroup is on the ACP Newsgroup page[M].

Jackie Blaser is a representative with ACP's Practice Management Center.

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