When you finally open your own healthcare practice, you’ll welcome new patients, hire staff, and assume an important role in the community. But there are many challenges you’ll face—the kind that medical school doesn’t prepare you for. How can you prepare for increasingly digital patient experiences? How can you reduce repetitive administrative work so that you have more time for your clients?
The data shows that these challenges are real. In 2018, the Physician Practice Benchmark Survey from the American Medical Association (AMA) found that, for the first time, more physicians were employed rather than owning their own private practice.
The good news is that as the number of private practices falls, the opportunity to stand out from big institutions and develop a successful practice is more ripe than ever. And there are plenty of experts and practice owners who have weathered the challenges of a new business and are willing to share their know-how.
We consulted the experts for tips on avoiding the common pitfalls of a new healthcare practice, so you can open your doors with a clean bill of health:
- Don’t overlook hiring and retention
- Focus on every step from end to end
- Take advantage of partnerships and technology
- Manage your administrative burden
- Streamline patient communication and prevent no-shows
1. Your team matters as much as your patients: Don’t overlook hiring and retention
While the focus of your new healthcare practice will naturally fall on your patients, you can’t give them the care and attention they need without hiring the best team and then retaining them. David Farache, the CEO of Harmony Recovery Group, explains that it’s crucial to find and keep employees who are aligned with the interests of your practice and “share your dedication for the care of your patients.”
As a practitioner and new business owner, remember that staffing is important for patient care and serving your community; if you face challenges with hiring and retention, your capacity for both will be compromised.
To make sure you hire the right team, Farache recommends implementing rigorous recruiting practices and narrowing your employment criteria before you start accepting applications. Then include multiple interview rounds and competency tests to “ensure that staff are willing and able to provide proper patient care,” he says.
To make matters worse, many healthcare employees experience burnout from having to work extra shifts—contributing to even more turnover and stretched-thin staff.
It’s estimated that the turnover of a single nurse can cost between $37,700 and $58,400, putting healthcare practices at risk of losing up to $8.1 million per year due to nurse turnover alone. As a new practice, this isn’t a financial burden you’ll want to take on.
- Increasing wages or benefits. It might appear to cost you more, but will actually save money in the long run.
- Recognizing your employees for their contributions.
- Offering leadership opportunities or ongoing training to employees.
When you prioritize hiring and retaining your employees, you’re optimizing patient care by ensuring your employees are the best service providers possible. You’re also minimizing the costs, risks, and liabilities that can result from high turnover, understaffing, or dissatisfied patients.
Finally, you can earn and keep a reputation in your community, which Farache argues makes “the difference between a failing facility and a growing and prosperous one.”
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2. The patient experience isn’t just a consultation: Focus on every step from end to end
As a healthcare practitioner, you might only spend a brief amount of time with each of your patients. But their experience with your new practice starts the moment they hear about you—and it continues through the booking process, waiting room experience, and any subsequent follow-ups.
Every patient interaction with your practice impacts patient sentiment—and your reputation. New practices often fall into the trap of undervaluing the many touchpoints of the customer experience, but it’s an easy pitfall to avoid.
When Angela and Gerwyn Rowlands, owners of Buttercup 7 Day Dental, launched their new practice, they concentrated on the entire customer experience. Because so many people suffer from dental phobia, they said they “wanted patients to come in and be really relaxed and comfortable before they see the dentist.”
To that end, they created a waiting area unlike any other: it feels more like a trendy café than a dental practice, featuring bright colors, café-style seating, and large windows:
To execute their waiting room design, the Rowlands called in a building and interior design agency—after all, their expertise is dentistry, not decor. The Rowlands recommend hiring an expert to help with any design and building needs, saying that they “initially toyed with the idea of project managing it [themselves],” but in retrospect, couldn’t have done it without help.
Relying on external design and building resources for your new practice can eliminate the extra stress of being outside your comfort zone. With the experts on hand to help, the Rowlands achieved a decor that matched their practice’s tone—bright, fun, and approachable.
Beyond the design of their space, the Rowlands used fun activities to make patients feel more at home in the waiting room. As a family with young children, they understand firsthand the importance of positive dental experiences for children from a young age—and that anxiety about going to the dentist can be worsened by clinical, unapproachable waiting rooms.
With this in mind, they made sure their waiting room was full of activities like iPads, books, magazines, and games for visitors. These distractions help patients get comfortable before seeing the dentist (and can get younger visitors excited for their next visit).
Studies show that accommodations like technology, books, playing music, soft lighting, and artwork can help reduce dental phobia. But making your practice environment comfortable, approachable, and fun doesn’t just help patients feel at ease, it actually helps to cultivate long-term patients and positive habits the moment they enter your waiting room.
Physical space, decor, and technology go a lot further than just keeping patients busy and relaxed while they wait.
“The beautiful surroundings, the iPads, and flat-screen televisions are not just for show; they are all tools for building trust between dentist and patient,” explain the Rowlands. “We know that it’s only once we have won that trust that they will truly be relaxed in our practice.”
Trust between you and your clients leads to retention and long-term revenue: satisfied patients will return to your practice and send referrals your way.
3. Keep up with an ever-changing landscape: Take advantage of partnerships and technology
Another challenge small practices face is the constantly shifting landscape of healthcare. As Joe Caruncho, CEO of Genuine Health Group, explains, “The healthcare universe has changed, and today, doctors and hospitals are working together to coordinate patients’ care and reduce healthcare costs.”
With more competition than ever, there are new challenges to obtaining and meeting quality metrics—like how to quantify and measure patient outcomes, patient sentiment, and provider processes—which in turn impact practice reimbursement in value-based care systems. Patient education and engagement also pose a challenge that requires new (and sometimes costly) investments to improve.
Improving quality metrics and patient education initiatives are priorities for any practice, especially a new one. However, they require strategic development, an investment of time and money, and a cohesive team—all of which come at a high cost.
To reduce your costs while remaining strategic, Caruncho recommends relying on technology to monitor quality metrics and engage with patients. With tools like electronic health records, practice management software, and a patient portal, your practice can gain efficiencies through all parts of the patient management experience.
Software can streamline your data collection, helping you better understand your patients’ health and trends, as well as speed up the process of booking appointments or sending reminders.
He also suggests new businesses “take a closer look at best practices in value-based care and make the most of partnerships.” For example, members of Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) may have access to technological solutions that help physicians monitor patients’ health and lower costs.
Whether you join an ACO, IPA, or another type of network, you can count on added benefits for your patients, access to more data to inform your business decisions, and a network of practitioners with whom to collaborate, all of which will help your practice achieve a competitive advantage.
By leveraging partnerships and technology, you can simultaneously advance health outcomes while reducing unnecessary spending. And as the industry shifts to value-based care, partnerships can provide additional financial incentives and reduce risk for new practices.
Finally, Caruncho argues that the use of technology and partnerships can encourage patient involvement. “Patients who are involved in their care are more likely to follow advice, take their medication, and adopt healthy behaviors, leading to better outcomes as well as better quality scores,” he says—a win-win for your practice and your patients.
4. Don’t let your back office get backed up: Manage your administrative burden
With the shift in healthcare from private practice to large organizations, you might now find yourself in a minority as a practice owner. But why are fewer physicians starting their own practices now than ever before?
According to Dr. Lisa Kennedy, Managing Principal and Chief Economist at Innopiphany, and Junko Saber, Managing Principal at Innopiphany, a large part of this shift is due to the fact that almost a quarter of physician time is spent on non-clinical paperwork.
Physicians face price pressure in the form of reduced reimbursement from health insurance companies and a greater administrative burden just to collect revenue for services rendered. These burdens lower revenue per patient and lead to greater financial strain on practices, which ultimately takes time away from patient interactions and reduces the emotional rewards of practicing medicine.
But new practices don’t have to fall into this trap. Kennedy and Saber suggest that healthcare practices leverage technology to address their administrative overload, using tools like electronic health records and a patient portal to empower practitioners and patients alike.
These solutions can increase the efficiency of your practice and improve the quality of care you provide by keeping you better connected with your patients and fellow practitioners.
When you’re spending less time with administrative overload, you can spend more time with your patients, which contributes to greater patient satisfaction and engagement. All that time with your patients is actually better for your bottom line, too: according to Accenture’s Insight Driven Health study, “A superior customer experience doesn’t just strengthen patient engagement—it also correlates to 50 percent higher hospital margins.”
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5. Build strong patient-practitioner relationships: Streamline patient communication and prevent no-shows
Communication is fundamental to any business, but it’s especially important for new healthcare practices. There are so many touchpoints outside of your patient consultation, such as scheduling appointments, reminders, and follow-ups, that keeping in touch with your patients can become unruly.
“Whether you’re managing patient phone calls or appointments, or avoiding no-shows, the potential for your practice to avoid large expenditures is enormous,” explain Kennedy and Saber. In fact, one study estimates that the annual cost of missed appointments for practitioners in the US is $150 billion.
Though Kenneth and Saber report that “patient phone calls… can take time, be difficult to track, and may not be prioritized appropriately,” they play an important role in helping people show up for their appointments. And luckily, it’s easy to help your patients keep their appointments.
At CareMore, a healthcare delivery system, they simply changed their approach to reminder phone calls—giving several days’ notice instead of calling only the day prior to an appointment—and saw a measurable decrease in no-shows.
Many practices also rely on automatic text messages, a less intrusive way of reaching patients, to confirm appointments. And with tons of technology solutions that can help your team stay on top of appointment reminders, helping your patients get to your practice is easier than it’s ever been.
To streamline patient communication and avoid the financial burden of no-shows, Kennedy and Saber say technology and procedures for triage can make all the difference for a healthy private practice. And relying on tech doesn’t just address the challenges of patient communication—it also further improves the experience that patients have with you.
The upfront investment in communication results in fewer missed appointments, increased patient loyalty, and better health outcomes—the reason you started your practice in the first place.
Overcome these healthcare pitfalls
Tackling these pitfalls early—and avoiding them in the future—is central to the long-term success of your practice, both in terms of patient-practitioner relationships and business best practices.
By facing your challenges head on, you can then focus on providing the best care to your patients, resulting in a healthy, successful practice.