Without a doubt, 2014 will be a big year in healthcare with many changes. For many independent mid-sized practices, the regular day-to-day can be challenging enough. Planning for major changes with ICD-10 and meaningful use reporting, not to mention all of the other industry changes that will be coming, can be intimidating. Change will be inevitable and the best way for practice administrators to keep from losing their cool is to get to work on strategic planning for the coming year.

One may think that strategic planning is only about the big ticket items, but organizational strategy can start with big goals that are realized by small, focused, and daily steps. Inefficiencies in medical practice worflow may not only waste time but also contribute to mistakes, re-work, lost productivity and income. Perhaps worst of all is when you frustrate your patients, staff and physicians when these issues go on unrecognized and unresolved.Medical Practice Front Desk 1

For whatever reason, these seemingly minor inefficiencies in medical practice workflow often lag and go unaddressed. Some issues may be force of habit or being blind to the impact. Others may not know where to begin with creating a solution. That’s why having a strategic planning session that gets everyone involved behind creating a change, sets common goals and clear objectives, and a schedule of implementation can get your clinic over the hump in the new year!

The front desk, being the first place a person physically steps foot into your office, and many times, where that first phone call lands, is a great first place to start. There are a lot of moving parts and planning can get bogged down in the details quickly when talking about the front desk. It’s best to start your strategy with some big goals that everyone can agree on. For example, you may want patients to be treated the way you like to be treated. For example, to always interact with a person – not leave a message or a wait for a receptionist on the phone. You can set a goal for patient communication to occur within the first 60 seconds of a phone or in-person interaction in your front office. You can identify a means to randomly survey a specific number of patients in the waiting area. Whether you call it patient satisfaction, guest relations or customer service, you can begin to measure the first impression your patients have of your facility. Once you know where you are at, you can begin to create a plan to brand the experience throughout the clinic for patients and employees.

Outsource Receivables is particularly interested in the patient experience and how it relates to billing. Does your office set a culture of patient responsibility… or perhaps a culture of avoidance? Talking about co-pays, coverage and deductibles can be uncomfortable, but it’s important to keeping the clinic cash flow in check.

When you look at the bottom line, a successful clinic requires a focus on patient dollars like copays, coinsurance and other balances. If not addressed properly at the different stages of the patient experience, even small $10 co-pays will add up to hundreds and then thousands of dollars in lost revenue. Creating a culture of patient responsibility, education and facilitation of payment will take time – and it will take a strategic approach to how you manage not only your front desk, but every aspect of your clinic.

A great front desk task to implement in 2014 is consistent, early and repeated insurance verification. At the first call to schedule an appointment adequate patient information should be gathered to verify insurance coverage. Because a patient’s statistical information may change between visits, the front desk staff must verify not only the patient’s current address, phone number and allergy information; but the insurance coverage as well. Putting in place a plan to verify when the appointment reminder call is made is truly the best way to prepare the patient for their visit. Some practice management systems also enable viewing of patient co-pays, and deductibles, as well as the balance of the deductible still required. Being able to advise a patient that they will need to bring in $30 for a co-pay and be ready to discuss a payment plan for an expected deductible amount of $740 is good customer service and will give the patient time to think and prepare.

Your phone system may be another inefficiency to address in your front office planning. Testing the system as a user is the easiest way to identify the patient experience. If you find that the phone just rings or goes right to message you may have an issue. If there are no options for location and hours, then this may be a worthwhile endeavor. If your staff is rude, struggles with processing requests, and puts patients on hold for longer than 2-3 minutes, then you might not want to wait until next year. Patient irritation and distress on the phone can lead to late appointments, annoyed patients (and staff), and overall a loss of productivity. Part of your strategic planning could be high level, like creating a budget to hire an additional staff person and updating the calling system. It could also be quality related like creating training with structured talking points, easy access policy guidelines, and a schedule of who is responsible for taking calls when people are out sick or on breaks.

Lastly, front desk planning can include an assessment of equipment available to office staff and its functionality. Staff in the front office must have the training and be able to operate each piece of equipment efficiently. Equipment may include a check or credit card machine, a fax or copier, ID scanners, label printers and multi-line phone systems. Supplies must be readily available and equipment efficiently interfaced to the EMR or practice management systems. Planning may include a budget for the purchasing of wireless headsets, double computer screens, rolling chairs and accessible furniture and cabinets.

Each of these areas can be discussed with staff in a strategic planning session to gather ideas and buy-in. If staff take ownership of the changes and quality measures, your success will be all but ensured. With 2014 being a busy year of change, getting your front desk in order will help alleviate other the impact of other changes like the ICD-10 transition, and meaningful use patient portal implementation.

Most practices will conduct some level of annual planning for growth, training, upgrades, etc. Outsource Receivables has adopted a strategy of weekly leadership meetings and delegating specific topic areas to the project management team. The project leads involve vendors, clients and consultants in the research process and hold regular meetings to keep the planning and implementation process moving. Through these interactions, training needs are identified, modules developed, and later deployed at company Lunch & Learns and client meetings. An added step is regular one-on-ones with clients and staff focused on implementing the strategic objectives while generating new process improvements. These actions move the needle on change one step at a time within the strategic framework.

We approach our client relationships from a win-win perspective. The more efficient a clinic’s internal processes are, the more effective we are as an outsource billing company. ORI knows how important but challenging implementing change can be; that’s why we are ready to assist with best practices for medical billing at the front desk and every step of the process.

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