Physicians in private practice are small business owners, whether they think of themselves that way or not. In order to make their businesses grow, physicians sometimes have to embrace non-traditional methods.
Horse whispering is a collective term for a variety of horse training techniques that focus on developing a rapport with horses, and usually represent a radical departure from traditional techniques. Horse whisperers are often thought of as the horse’s best friend.
Sharon Fekete is a doctor’s best friend. Fekete is a medical solutions strategist and founder of The Doctor Whisperer. She uses nearly 20 years of medical experience to build rapport with physicians, and often helps them make radical departures from the traditional ways they’ve run their practices.
In short, she helps physicians run their practices more efficiently.
“I can’t tell you how many times I hear my clients say, ‘We were never taught this in medical school,’” Says Fekete, referencing the lack of management training physicians receive. “If you can’t be efficient in management, then you certainly can’t be efficient running a practice.”
Starting with Staff
When clients hire Fekete to help them grow their practice they often want her to step in and do their branding, or their marketing, or their public relations work. But the place she starts is with the practice staff. More often than not that’s the reason the practice isn’t growing.
“It’s not because they don’t have enough billboards,” Fekete says. “It’s because the person who’s answering the phone is miserable Mary. And she turns off a lot of people phoning in.”
But medical school doesn’t teach physicians how to train their staff, or how to treat employees, Fekete explains. Physicians are taught a hierarchy form of management. That means they don’t show any sign of weakness. They’re not taught to be humble; they’re taught to be right.
“That doesn’t teach anyone how to motivate their staff,” Fekete says. “In my opinion, the staff is the most important part of the practice.”
Fekete references a New York City-based physician whom she coaches. The physician wants to break away from the day-to-day minutia of running her practice and start writing books and speaking at workshops. But she can’t because her practice is run inefficiently.
“And too often physicians don’t want to spend the money to bring on an administrator who can actually run the practice so they can get back to seeing patients, because that’s what they’re supposed to be doing,” she says.
Change is Good
Fekete spent eight years working for a Florida-based practice that operated multiple satellite offices. The practice’s four physicians recognized that there were benefits to removing themselves from any administrative or marketing functions and allowing her to run the practice.
“I opened a night division, which was something they never wanted to do, and they tripled their income,” Fekete explains. “If you do the things you’re good at and leave the rest for a professional in that industry, you will get to love what you do.”
Fekete believes in keeping change simple. She recommends identifying just one thing that needs to be fixed—for example, the front office and waiting room. Identify the time-wasters. And if you’re not certain where to start, she suggests reaching out to the MGMA for benchmarking tools and cost surveying reports.
“You can isolate if you’re paying your staff what you should be,” Fekete says. “Watch the trends. Look at your neighborhood of practices and find out what they’re charging. Isolate the problems within the practice. When the phone rings, do you have a human answering, or is it an auto attendant? Can patients make appointments online?”
And if you’re looking for direction, Fekete suggests focus groups—a strategy she says is unheard of for most physicians.
“If you’re not sure how you’re doing, bring in some of your long time patients and ask them,” she says.
Fekete says when she works with her clients she starts with the truth—whether they want to hear it or not.
“Most of them listen and stay,” she says. “Only the ones who can’t get over their ego move on.”
She references a former client, a psychiatrist. She offered to coach him, and his response was, “I don’t need a coach. I’m a psychiatrist.”
Fekete explained that she wasn’t going to coach him on how to deal with patients, but on how to grow his practice.
“The most successful people in the world have coaches,” Fekete says. “I never want to be the smartest person in the room; I always say that. Doctors too, because I have this real candid conversation with them, tell them how brilliant they are, and then tell them that just because they’re brilliant in medicine doesn’t mean that they need to be brilliant in everything.”