Running a physician practice is a lot different-and substantially more challenging-than it used to be.
Richard BestRunning a physician practice is a lot different-and substantially more challenging-than it used to be.
Physicians and other practice staff are being asked to transform the way they deliver patient care while reducing costs and maintaining quality. They are having to navigate new payment structures-patient payments and risk-based payments, for example-while expanding their communication and collaboration with other care providers.
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As patients assume more payment responsibility, they are also demanding more from their physicians, looking for a highly service-oriented experience that includes responsive communication, cutting-edge technology and convenient access.
Along with these shifting dynamics is an increasingly complex regulatory environment that spans a variety of diverse topic areas and incorporates countless rules and requirements.
Unfortunately, a troubling situation is emerging as a result of the constant change and mounting pressure-physicians and practice staff are being pulled in different directions, causing elevated stress, fatigue and burnout. In fact, a recent study by the Mayo Clinic shows that more than 50 percent of physicians experience one or more symptoms of burnout. According to one interpretation, “physician burnout is bad and slowly getting worse.”
To address this problem, practices need to find ways to avoid overtaxing clinical staff. One approach is to reevaluate and revamp organizational processes so that physicians and other personnel are able to focus on what they are passionate about and trained to do, delegating the administrative responsibilities elsewhere.
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This involves taking a hard look at how a practice operates, determining where staff currently spend their time and deciding whether performing those tasks is the best use of physician and staff resources. Are there tasks that are taking physicians away from direct patient care? Are there things that staff could be delegating? Are there certain functions that would be better outsourced? Are there areas where an external content expert could provide benefit?
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Take compliance, for example. Meeting the various regulations associated with legislation such as HIPAA and OSHA, as well as key tasks like waste management, can be a tall order.
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For instance, an organization that disposes of hazardous pharmaceuticals has to keep track of a host of rules from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Transportation and the Drug Enforcement Agency-and some of these regulations conflict. Just keeping up with the applicable rules and their nuances can be a full-time job.
Compounding this issue is the fact that physicians and other healthcare staff often don’t have the appropriate training to fully meet compliance requirements. Although they may be well-versed in clinical care, developing a process and policy to limit the spread of blood borne pathogens, for example, may be out of their wheelhouse.
As organizations begin to reprioritize where staff spend their time, it may become apparent that outsourcing key tasks, such as those related to compliance, makes the most sense.
For example, companies that have the expertise and bandwidth to understand and keep up with the myriad compliance regulations can help physician practices stay current and understand which rules apply and which do not. These companies can also help the practice develop an action plan and ensure the practice is aware of any changes or additions to the regulations as they arise.
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Training programs are another area where outsourcing could provide some assistance. Because of their depth of familiarity with the regulations, external resources can provide targeted education much more efficiently and effectively than an internal program. In some cases, the company can also offer easy-to-use training materials, including online tools and scenario-based learning.
Outside resources can also help prepare organizations for a visit from a regulatory agency, something that physician practices may struggle with on their own.
Through this, a physician practice can make sure it has touched all the bases and is ready should a regulatory body come knocking. For instance, practices can even perform mock assessments, serving the dual purpose of training staff and preparing them for what a regulatory visit could be like.
By shifting compliance tasks to an outside expert, organizations can free physicians and staff to spend more time with patients-not only improving quality and enhancing value for the practice, but ensuring that staff concentrate on the parts of their job that bring them satisfaction.
Even if an organization does not want to let go of a task completely, it can turn to an outside firm to provide guidance and support, which can relieve some of the pressure that leads to burnout.
About the Author
Richard Best is the technical director and corporate director of OSHA compliance at Stericycle, Inc.