Running a Medical Practice: A Guide to Growing Your Patient Base and Hiring the Best Talent

March 12, 2020 by Antonio Arias, MBA, CHBME

Topics: Medical Billing, Revenue Cycle Management, Practice Management

Thanks to the passage of the Affordable Care Act, there are nearly 20 million more insured individuals in America’s health insurance system than there were in September 2013. There’s arguably never been a better time in history for medical practices to boost their revenue by bringing in new patients. How is your practice capitalizing on the opportunity?

If you’re seeing slowed income growth (or a lot of empty slots in your day-to-day appointment schedules) then it’s not only smart for you to attract new patients, it’s imperative. Here are just a few tips for broadening your exposure to new audiences and expanding your patient network in the process.

7 Simple Ways to Attract New Patients

1. Make Targeted Changes

When you’re trying to attract new patients, it can be tempting to ‘go big’ - to move to a larger location, bring in new doctors with different medical specialties, and contract with as many new payers as possible. But growing your practice doesn’t have to mean overhauling it. Small, targeted tweaks to medical billing practices can boost your revenue more than you may expect.

Observe the dynamics of your practice and find smart ways to fill your gaps. Are your doctors getting bogged down with routine follow-up visits and physicals? Bring aboard a non-physician provider to handle less-than-critical encounters. Seeing a lot of pregnant women and mothers of small children at your primary care practice? Incorporate pediatric care to your practice’s offerings, or consider offering part-time childcare services.

2. Streamline Referrals

Referrals are the easiest way to attract new patients, but they’re all about building relationships and earning fellow providers’ trust. Practices that are easy to work with are the most likely to get referrals from their fellow practitioners, so build a reputation as the best medical office in town. Review and simplify your referral paperwork and processes. See referred patients quickly, rather than making them wait weeks for the first visit. Send progress notes promptly to the doctors who refer patients to you, and keep the lines of communication open to make sure you stay on the top of your fellow physicians’ lists with efficient practice management.

3. Engage New Communities

When was the last time you, or a representative of your practice, participated in a community service project or fundraising event? Engagement with your local community is a valuable way to project a charitable, positive image of your practice to new audiences. If you’re already actively engaged with a specific set of events and activities, branch out! Swap out one 5K for a similar running event for a different cause. Sponsor a fundraiser outside the healthcare scene, like a dinner-dance benefiting a local school. Accept an invitation to a networking conference or speaking engagement that you’d otherwise decline. Providing support to new communities will get you noticed by people you don’t know – who could ultimately become future patients.

For patients who find you online, why should they select your practice over others? What makes you a better option? Why should they believe in you? Deploying patient acquisition strategies designed to drive preference, trust, and value (not just awareness) can make the answers to those questions clear to prospective patients.

4. Leverage Technology

Practice improvements, better referral processes, community engagement… All of the above tips are important, but ultimately the best way to boost your exposure is to capitalize on every opportunity available to you on the internet. How good are your ratings on Yelp and Google? Ask happy patients to provide some positive reviews. Do you have a practice website? Get one, and make sure it’s professional and search engine optimized. Sync up to help your practice reach younger patients who are all about convenience.

By creating a website, maintaining a Facebook page, and keeping your online contact information up-to-date, it’s fairly easy to make sure patients in need can find and reach your practice. And by supplementing those efforts with a bit of paid advertising or search-engine-optimization services, you can be more likely to stand out online compared to competing practices in your community.

5. Present The Right Message

If you browse a selection of medical practice websites, you may have trouble telling them apart. Stock photos and boilerplate content about “compassionate care” don’t reflect the reality of most healthcare experiences. And yet, they’re inescapable in the healthcare-marketing landscape.

Break through the noise by developing messaging that reflects what your practice stands for and what makes it unique. Spend time considering what you do, how you do it differently, and what makes your services more valuable than those of competing practices. Find ways to bring authentic visuals into your online identity. With a more thoughtful, engaging online message and brand, you’ll be more likely to attract new patients.

6. Share Your Expertise

Patients are some of the internet’s most ravenous content consumers, but healthcare professionals are often hesitant to share clinically relevant information online - either because they don’t see the value, or are fearful of guiding patients’ thinking.

But in today’s online marketing landscape, you are what you know and people want to know what you know before they make an appointment. Try blogging about common problems people come to your practice for, or conduct video interviews with doctors or nurses and share them on social media. In doing so, you’ll become more likely to earn patients’ trust.

7. Highlight Patient Experiences

Never forget that the patients seeking you out online are already in a tough spot. If they’re searching for a provider in your specialty, it likely means that no one in their lives was able to refer them to a trusted practice. (Worse, it can mean they already got a referral that didn’t work out so well.)

Recreating the personal-referral experience online can go a long way to winning patients’ preference and trust. Try incorporating testimonials into your website, or encouraging happy patients to review you on Yelp or other platforms. Have your clinical professionals engage with new audiences on message boards to discuss how they handled patient problems. Ultimately, bringing more of the encounter experience online can be a recipe for patient acquisition success.

How to Hire Great Staffers for Your Medical Practice

As you look around your practice, you likely see many areas where you could invest in new resources: technology, infrastructure, new devices. But what about your human resources?

Your investment in your staff is arguably the one with that reaps the highest dividends on your office’s productivity, patient satisfaction, and revenues. That’s why whenever a team member quits or retires, it’s critical for you to take a long-term approach to hiring a new employee who will be a good fit for your team and make a strong contribution to your success – not to just get a new body in that empty seat as soon as possible.

The best bet is to look for an employee with the right mix of several qualities (experience, teachability, enthusiasm, and commitment) that you can assess throughout the different phases of the hiring process.

Resume Review: Do They Have the Right Experience?

Often, once you post a job listing, you’re inundated almost immediately with applications and referrals from friends and colleagues. The key to acing resume reviews is to focus on experience; candidates with a background in your field are simply more likely to succeed on the job.

There are exceptions: Do you have a capable staff that could train a “blank slate” hire without medical practice experience? If so, don’t discount recent graduates. If not, don’t feel bad about holding out for someone with a health care background and saying “no thanks” to friends and family members whose referred kin don’t have the experience you need.

Interviewing: Are They Teachable?

Once you’ve slimmed down that stack of resumes, it’s time to get to know your applicants a little better. Phone screenings and first-round interviews are the moments where a candidate’s experience starts to take a backseat to their personality. Ultimately, a new hire’s eagerness and ability to learn may be more valuable than their technical know-how.

Weed out the prospects who seem too set-in-their-ways to adopt new skills and learn by doing. Ask each potential hire questions designed to measure their openness to learning and growing, such as: 

  • “What was your biggest obstacle at your last job, and how did you conquer it?”
  • “How do you respond to challenges?”
  • “What’s one thing you’ve done in the last 12 months to improve yourself?” 

Selection: Do They Have Enthusiasm for Their Work?

As you narrow the pool further to the top two or three candidates, consider which one has the keenest interest in working for you – as opposed to just working. Someone who is excited about the opportunity to be a part of your team is more likely to put in the work to succeed.

During first and second-round interviews, share what makes your practice unique among its peers and see how the interviewee responds. Don’t forget that it’s a two-way-street: keep note of which candidates ask you questions to help them decide whether your practice is the right fit for them.

Onboarding: Are They Committed?

The most frustrating part of hiring is the threat of the “perfect storm,” or finding the right candidate, offering them the job (and being thrilled when they accept), and then training them for several weeks or months only to watch them leave your practice too quickly. Sometimes, there’s nothing you can do to keep the exodus from happening, but you can do your best to hedge yourself against it by gauging a new hire’s commitment up-front and being as honest with them as possible.

When you’ve found the right person, be direct and straightforward about the job responsibilities and associated challenges, the salary, and the outlook for future wage growth and advancement. (That way, there’s no chance your new hire can claim he “didn’t know” any of the stipulations related to working for you.) Use a three-month probationary period to observe the hire’s approach and commitment to becoming an indispensable member of your team. If it doesn’t seem like they’re in it for the long haul after 90 days, better to start the hiring process over again on your own terms than deal with a surprise resignation (or worse) a few weeks later.

Could Non-Compete Agreements Help Your Practice Compete?

Brace yourselves: The physician shortage is coming for your practice. According to a recent report from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), the U.S. will face a shortage of as many as 100,000 physicians by 2030 as the “Baby Boomer” generation ages out of the workforce.

If you operate in a lucrative specialty, you may think the doctor shortage won’t impact you, but you’re probably wrong. Despite the attention often lobbed at our nation’s need for more primary care physicians, the greatest shortfall of practitioners will likely be for surgeons and other providers whose services are critical to elder care.

How exactly you should shield yourself from the impact of the doctor shortage is hard to say, as the right strategy differs for every medical office, clinic, or hospital. One approach being taken by a great number of practices is the use of “non-competes.”

What is a Non-Compete?

Whether a standalone signed agreement or a clause in a physician’s employment contract, a non-compete (or restrictive covenant) is designed to bar a physician from leaving his or her employer for a competing medical establishment (or going into private practice) in the same geographic area. If the doctor disregards the non-compete and jumps ship, he or she can face hefty fines or legal ramifications from the original employer.

Practices are using non-compete agreements to hedge against the doctor shortage, earn ROI on new-doctor training, and keep their patients from following rogue doctors to their new gigs. But non-competes are not without their drawbacks. If your medical office has yet to add them to your onboarding paperwork, keep the following considerations in mind before doing so.

The Problems With Non-Competes

Non-competes are not enforceable everywhere. Non-competes are illegal or highly restricted in several states, including Alabama, California, Colorado, Delaware, Massachusetts, North Dakota, Tennessee, and Texas. Where they are enforceable, they must be “reasonable.” What constitutes reasonable, however, is rarely black-and-white. Only a few states have passed laws placing limits on non-competes. 

They can lead to legal battles. If a physician expresses intent to leave your practice in violation of a signed non-compete, it may be to your advantage to let him or her negotiate out. Why? Because if a physician challenges the agreement in court, his or her legal team will likely come looking for any reason to call it null – meaning that any flaws in your agreement, or your adherence to it, will come to light.

And their flaws can be many. Common reasons that courts throw out non-competes are that they’re too broad (encompassing too large a geographic region or too long a time horizon); they’re ‘selectively enforced’ by the medical group (i.e. some docs get fined when leaving, not others); or that they fail to consider the employer’s responsibility to the physician (to provide quality working conditions, to deliver on financial incentives, etc.).

The decision to use a non-compete should not be made lightly. Any non-compete terms you place in a physician contract will likely be subject to negotiation throughout the hiring process. Crafting terms that are fair to the physician while also protecting your healthcare practice can be a very delicate line to walk and will likely require the input of an attorney.

Making Your Practice the Best it Can Be

Running a medical practice that hires and retains top talent while also growing its patient base is a major challenge no matter how large your healthcare business may be. In addition to these marketing and staffing challenges, there’s also the administrative matter of medical billing and coding, which can take up a great deal of your staff’s time and energy. When managed poorly, your revenue cycle management could leave quite a bit of money on the table or expose your practice to ruinous regulatory penalties.

That’s why partnering with a medical billing provider like NCG Medical can help take your healthcare practice to the next level. We have four decades of experience helping clients streamline their billing operations and maximize revenue streams, which puts them in a position to actively focus on finding new clients to service and offering competitive terms to the very best physicians and medical administrators. To find out how NCG Medical can transform your practice and turbocharge your revenue cycle management, contact one of our medical billing experts today.

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