Every year medical practices lose thousands of dollars due to missed appointments, non-adherence to treatment regimens, and other patient-related matters.
Does $10,000 sound like a lot of money? How about if you were to lose $10,000 every year—now does that sound like a lot of money?
No, this isn’t about the stock market. It’s about the dollars medical practices lose on an all-too-regular basis due to missed appointments, non-adherence to treatment regimens, and other patient-related matters simply because no existing policies were in place.
Drew Stevens, PhD, a practice management expert and chiropractic coach, says that in today’s day and age, losing that amount of money on an annual basis is simply unacceptable.
“With the plethora of available technology and lengthy waits in waiting rooms, we find that doctors can minimize wait times by at least 33% by providing downloadable forms and having the patient bring these to the initial and follow-up appointments,” Stevens says.
Partnering with patients
Kevin Stone, MD, founder of the Stone Clinic and the Stone Research Center in San Francisco, says the strategy he has employed in order to ensure patients comply with medical practice protocols is partnering, or establishing mutual goals for their care.
“If a patient is an athlete and has an injured knee, then while, obviously, we talk about the strategies of repairing the knee, most importantly we set out a plan to see if we can help that patient see themselves as an athlete in training, and not a patient in rehab,” Stone explains. “By doing that, we then can set a mutual goal of fitness, coordination, and agility. We like to say we help our patients become fitter, faster, and stronger so that 6 months after their injury, they can return to their sport better than they were before they got hurt.”
Partnering with patients on a mutual goal is the key to success, Stone says. He explains that the practice is fortunate in that it has the luxury of being able to pick its patients. And if a patient isn’t able to find a goal or an approach that works for them, and if the patient and the practice are unable to partner on a shared vision of what their care is going to be like, and what their outcome should be like, then they’re probably not the right patient for the practice’s program.
“It’s a patient selection, and patient education contract,” Stone says. “I’ll give you my best surgery if you give me your best effort at rehab and conditioning. That’s what makes us succeed.”
Stone’s practice employs online services and he explains that the more in-depth a practice’s website is, the better. For the Stone Clinic website, that means a lot of patient testimonials.
“The more outcomes data with high-quality research that shows the outcomes of patients who have undergone the treatments that you provide—that provides credibility for the patient to know that if they’re like somebody else, then they’re likely to have that kind of outcome,” Stone says. “Patient testimonials from patients just like them going through a similar problem, that provides both confidence and education before the patient even walks in the door.”
And when they walk in the door for the first time, the partnership begins virtually immediately. In his first conversation with patients, Stone asks, “What are your goals as a patient. What have you given up because of your injury?” That doesn’t mean patients have to be athletes. Being able to walk from store to store and shop pain-free is a perfectly legitimate goal, says Stone.
“We’re going to design a program together that helps the patient achieve his or her goal,” he explains. “So, from moment one, you are enmeshed or bonded to your own goals.”
Stone says partnering with patients not only benefits the patients health-wise, but also positively impacts the practice financially.
“The primary referral to a successful practice is happy patients,” he says. “If you have patients who are achieving their goals and getting better, then that’s going to be significantly different than someone in their peer group who might have had a similar procedure for a torn knee or some thing like that, where they never were quite right, never regained where they wanted to be, or weren’t motivated by the entire experience. And so if the patient is motivated by doctor/patient and medical care team interaction, then they become your practice’s best supporters.”
The downside to not partnering with patients?
“Mismatched goals or outcomes,” Stone says. “People don’t know what to expect, or they may be disappointed in their outcome if they didn’t have a clear set of goals. That’s a large opportunity for patient dissatisfaction.”